Brianna Foster: Humanitarian and activist

By Corianna Jackson
Brentwood High School

Brianna Foster raises awareness in her community when she’s not raising quails in her basement.

The 17-year-old junior at Smithtown High School East believes that “if you want change, you have to do something about it.” Brianna is doing something about it. She joyously immerses herself in charity work, participating in causes such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the National Organization of Women, the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards and Habitat for Humanity. And when she isn’t volunteering with guide dogs or making blankets for the elderly, she’s raising endangered bobwhite quails.

The generous high schooler has been an outgoing, kind-hearted spirit ever since she was a child.

“She started talking at four months of age,” her mother, Rita Foster, recalled.

At a young age, Brianna — who lives with her mom, dad, 15-year-old sister Paula and three dogs — was thrust into volunteer work by her mother. Rita Foster, who is involved in many charitable organizations, was the one who suggested that Brianna start raising quails. Their family has been doing it for three years now, increasing the number of quails each time. They went from 12, to 16, to 21 this year.

Brianna explained that quails are important for Long Island because they eat ticks that carry Lyme disease. Two weeks after the quails hatch, she releases them at Caleb Smith State Park in Smithtown. Raising quails isn’t easy.

“They’re really annoying, and they keep trying to eat each other,” she said.

Once Brianna hit high school, she started looking into other projects and causes. She’s deeply interested in the feminist movement, and she uses journalism to share that message with her school. In her school newspaper, The Matador, Brianna wrote a piece titled “My statement starts with a period.” The piece was about the need to add free feminine products in the girls’ bathrooms at her school.

When she isn’t writing to bring about change, she enjoys writing opinion pieces about music and drawing political cartoons. Brianna also likes to play the piano.

Brianna applied to Stony Brook University’s Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists because she was interested in the profession and felt that the institute was “a good way to solidify it as a career choice.”

She would like to use journalism as a tool to expose corruption, raise awareness and stand up for what she believes in. Now almost a week into the program, she is surprised by all the different elements that go into publishing a story, from photography and videography to writing.

When asked how her work in the community ties in with her writing, Brianna responded that “journalism is a people activity, and my work taught me how to love people.”

Rachel Schneider: A curious, adventurous journalist

By Caroline Ledoux
Roosevelt High School

She may not know where she wants to go to college, but 17-year-old Rachel Schneider has no doubt about which career she will pursue. She is desperate to make an impact on society, and that’s where her interest in journalism comes from.

“Journalism allows me to foster my great curiosity and interest in current events in combination with my enthusiasm for writing,” the Great Neck South High School senior said.

Rachel’s mother, Debbie Schneider, said she’s always had a zest for life. She describes her daughter as “adventurous, hard-working and loquacious.” Her mother also said she’s inquisitive and honest.

Rachel said she’s passionate in everything she does. She’s proven her passion through her commitment to local media.

“I put a 100 percent effort in everything I do,” she said.

Rachel developed her love for writing in the ninth grade while producing entertainment, news and arts stories for the school newspaper, The Southerner. She is currently the editor-in-chief and section editor. She previously wrote for her local newspaper, The Great Neck Record, and is currently an intern at her local TV station, the Public Access TV.

Rachel credits her writing ability to the support of her family and her journalism teacher, Jennifer Hastings. “Ms. Hastings taught me everything I know,” Rachel said.

Besides writing, one of Rachel’s major interests is food. She owns an Instagram account entirely dedicated to her love of food. Her Instagram account, @_thefoodstagram, has over 1,000 followers and she uploads content daily. “My Instagram relates to my love of journalism because I love writing about food,” Rachel said.

Rachel said she believes that journalists play an integral and interesting part in American society today. As a journalist, she said, “you are given the responsibility to share news and inform the world in a compelling yet objective way. A journalist must [share information] in order to allow the public to form their own opinions.”

She believes that the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists, which she found while searching online for a journalism internship, will be a stepping stone in furthering her knowledge of journalism and pursuing her career aspirations.

“This internship,” she said, “will give me the opportunity to share, learn and work with different students who all share the same passion.”

Inna Ali: Love of journalism pushes Brooklyn student

By Julianna Orkin
West Islip High School

Long before Inna Ali started writing, she knew she loved it. Once she started high school, she began to write due to the stress of life.

“I needed a space to put it all down on paper,” she explained. “It was a way to cope with everything going on in my life.”

Ali, an incoming senior at the Secondary School of Journalism at Jon Jay Educational Campus in Brooklyn, was inspired to join the Bird’s Eye View, the school’s digital newspaper, through her love of writing. She held the title of assistant editor. She wrote editorials and film reviews and focused on a variety of topics, including racism and sexism faced by black women.

This led to Ali’s budding interest in journalism, which peaked when she discovered how to make a story her own.

“Journalism can be used as a means of educating people on the realities of the world and how we can make it better,” she said.

Unfortunately, not enough people were able to commit to the paper so it eventually dissolved during her sophomore year. As of her junior year, there are currently still no active publications at her school. This did not stop Ali’s desire to read and write so she could continue to improve her craft. She read zines, handmade magazines that are traded from creator to creator as a form of expression, and newspapers in her spare time.

“Zines allow me to be able to shed light on real world issues that need to be discussed more,” she explained.

She also reads the Metro US Newspaper every morning.

“The musings about new restaurants, movies, fashion trends and celebrities, as well as important political matters capture the essence of living in New York City, as well as the good and bad,” she said.

Ali has a range of interests in makeup artistry, shopping, reading, and writing, all of which help Ali exercise her creativity.

Inna’s father, Mohammed Ali, an author and creative writing professor at NYU, explained that her talent for writing has been present since elementary school.

“She has always kept a journal, and had once started writing a novel,” he said.

Ali found out about the Robert W. Greene Summer Journalism Institute during first period when her English teacher, Ms. Williams, passed out a flyer about it, but had a slight hesitation to apply initially.

“I had no hope that I was going to be accepted into this program,” she said. “I decided to apply at the last minute and I’m glad I did.”

Ali found out from her father that she’d been accepted into this program. “I felt shocked, then excited,” she described, and has been thrilled ever since. Ali’s entire family was equally excited.

Ali describes this program as, “a heaven-sent to us as a family, as it is making manifest a dream Ali has been nursing since elementary school.”

He also spoke of the tremendous opportunity this is for Inna, explaining that, “this program allows Inna to practice journalism at an even higher level than what her current school would ever dream of offering her.”

He said that Inna dreams of becoming a magazine editor or opinion writer, something she talks about frequently. But at 17, Inna said she is unsure of her career path.

She believes her future is starting to head in the direction of a potential career in journalism.

“I want a job that will be profitable but also enjoyable,” she explained.

Manoli Figetakis: The Renaissance reporter

By Meghan Reilly
Westhampton Beach High School

If Emanuel “Manoli” Figetakis could describe himself in three words, they would be “hard-working, dedicated and creative.”

“I always go above and beyond,” he said. Manoli is a 17-year-old junior at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, where he is a member of his school newspaper club and a reporter and photographer for the school newspaper, FLHS News. He is also a member of the school’s Hellenic club, in which students of Greek descent socialize.

Manoli has been interested in photography since he was 12 years old, when he took pictures of his family at events. His mother, father and two sisters—Kayla and Nina—have supported him the entire way.

At around 15, Manoli developed a passion for taking pictures of the New York City skyline and graffiti on the streets of Manhattan.

“The New York City skyline has a very distinctive architecture,” he said. “It easily sets it apart from every other skyline in the world because of how recognizable it is.”

Manoli also loves to report, and his favorite high school memory is reporting for the first time at a school pep rally.

“At first I was really nervous, but I was also very excited,” he said. He is now more casual about reporting, and says he can “walk up to just about anyone.”

Some of Manoli’s idols include photographers Jakob Dahlin, Max Guliani and Richie Jay, and photojournalists Hasani Gittens, Katie Honan and Katina Paron. “Different journalists cover different things,” Manoli said. “They all have different taste in photography. For instance, they could all shoot the same thing, but each photo would look different in the end.”

Manoli showcases his own photography at It includes photos from settings such as the “March For Our Lives” protest in Washington D.C. in March and, of course, his most favored location of all: the New York City skyline.

Manoli first got involved with his school’s journalism program during his freshman year, then “got more and more into it gradually.”

His journalism teacher Jacqueline Linge said he “still reports after school, even though the day is done. Manoli does a lot for Francis Lewis High School. He created all of our social media pages, developed a school newspaper for [Inspiring Students to Succeed] and covered other events outside of school for the main paper.”

Upon being accepted into the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute program, Manoli was shocked.

“I got the phone call at 5:15 [p.m.] on the dot,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d get accepted, and my teachers were more excited than I was!” Manoli added that he was most looking forward to “working with other people his age who have the same interests.”

After high school, Manoli plans to attend either Hofstra University or LaGuardia Community College to major in film communications. He also wants to minor in photography and gain a background in business.

“I want to do what I really want to do,” he said. “I want to be behind the scenes. I want to follow my path.”

Julianna Orkin: Inspired by professional journalists

By Inna Ali
Secondary School for Journalism

Julianna Orkin’s passion for journalism began when she was 14.

That’s when the now West Islip High School junior wrote an article for her middle school newspaper on budget cuts in the Beach Street Middle School music program. She said her teachers were highly impressed with her work and suggested she become a journalist. After that, she knew she wanted to pursue that field.

She said her father, Steven Orkin, has a lot to do with that pursuit. Orkin — who didn’t pursue a career in journalism but enjoys creative writing and facilitates a local writing group — said he always does his best to discuss real-world issues so that Julianna can apply it to her own life.

“I’m very passionate about the craft of writing, both fiction and nonfiction,” he said. “I’m also very interested in learning about what’s happening in the world, trying to make sense of it and coming up with some answers as to what to do about it. I’d like to think I’ve inspired Julianna to do the same.”

Julianna attended her first Columbia Scholastic Press Association conference in March and described the experience as “mesmerizing.”

“There were many like-minded people, all interested in journalism or creative writing,” she said. “I got to hear the stories of many people in the various news workshops I attended. They talked about overcoming censorship … and tragedy. It was inspiring and gave me more of a look into journalism.”

Julianna hasn’t decided if she wants to pursue a career in broadcast journalism, political journalism or investigative reporting. She hopes her week at the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists will help her make a choice.

Julianna said she hopes to get better at meeting deadlines, become a better interviewer, and have a better understanding of journalism after her week-long stay at the Greene Institute. She hopes to meet new people with similar interests and overall become a better journalist.

Chelsea Sibri: Drawn to journalism and medicine

By Parker Schug
Bayport – Blue Point High School

Seventeen-year-old Chelsea Sibri has demonstrated her drive since childhood.

“I’m a very energetic and fun person, but when it comes to work, I’m very hardworking,” said the 17-year-old year old senior at The Scholars’ Academy, in Rockaway Park, New York.

As a young girl with the dream of becoming a doctor, Chelsea worked to reach her goal. Later, after discovering her interest in reporting, Chelsea began to excel in English class. Her newfound passion made her reconsider her dream, but for now she’s pursuing both science and journalism. “I am thinking about double-majoring,” she said.

Chelsea says she has always understood the value of perseverance. As the child of two immigrant parents, she saw the effects of diligence.  “They taught me that with hard work, you really do make it,’ Chelsea said. “That was motivation to work hard.” According to her friend Jonathan Mora, “Chelsea continuously pushes herself.”

Her go-get-it attitude is evident in all that she does. “I will be taking AP Biology, AP Psychology, AP English and AP Art History. I am on the swim team, I’m vice president of my Chemistry Club and I am part of the school newspaper,” she said. As if challenging herself in school is not enough, Chelsea also volunteers in a doctor’s office to get more experience in the medical field.

Despite her busy schedule, she still manages to have fun by going to concerts and exploring the city. “Life can be short so I really want to make the most of it,” she said.

At home, Chelsea is industrious, helping her mother prepare meals. She will continue on her intended path  with the great support from her family, especially her older brother Anthony, who she describes as “a parental figure”.

As much as she prides herself in being self-sufficient, her niece, Angeles, stated, “Chelsea’s not afraid to ask for help because she knows that it’ll help her in the long run.”

Although Chelsea was preparing for a career in the medical field by taking challenging science courses, she was also drawn to the intensity of journalism. What ultimately sparked her interest in media was where she was raised, just 45 minutes from Manhattan.  Ozone Park was a good place to get exposed to the excitement of reporting. “There is so much media in the city, and that impacted me. It presented a big opportunity.”

Chelsea feels that the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute For High School Journalists will be a crucial step in deciding whether or not journalism is for her. “I’m looking forward to the amount of writing we will do,” she said. “I feel like this week at Stony Brook will give me a closer look into what journalism really is.”

Whatever her career choice, Chelsea plans to continue writing. “Writing is my hobby,” she said. “It’s a great way to release stress.”

Yash Kumar: Hopes of becoming a sports journalist

By Brianna Depra
Hempstead High School

Having loved sports since childhood, Yash Kumar hopes for a career as a sports journalist.

Growing up, Yash was very active because his two older brothers would take him outside to play football and basketball. The Jericho High School junior liked to watch basketball and football, especially the Super Bowl and the NBA finals. Watching the commentators gave him the idea to look into sports journalism.

“Seeing Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless have the ability to communicate their knowledge and predictions on certain players and teams was the career path I wanted to pursue ever since a young age,” Yash said.

Yash took a journalism elective course in his freshman year.

“We knew Yash had a passion to pursue sports journalism,” said his mother, Roma Kumar. “We pushed him to enroll in the journalism elective, as long as he worked his hardest.”

He ended up finding his niche writing about local sports for his high school newspaper. In his freshman year, he won several awards for his work and was even published in the Jericho-Syosset Tribune on multiple occasions.

“Yash’s work as a freshman was phenomenal and even surpassed some upper classmen’s work who have been enrolled in the elective for a few years,” said his teacher, Susanne Valenza. She added that by the time he graduates, “he will be able to help all journalism students with their work.”

Yash was eager to polish his writing and took an AP seminar on research and critical writing techniques.

In school, Yash is vice president of the peer tutoring club. In his spare time, he likes to play video games and to hang out with friends.

After deciding journalism was his true passion, he applied to Stony Brook University’s Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists and was accepted.

“I was surprised to get accepted as a sophomore,” he said. “I’m excited to learn more about journalism in different mediums like photo and broadcasting. It’s also a relief to get away from my parents for a week.”

Brianna Depra: A rising drama journalist

By Yash Kumar
Jericho High School

Brianna Depra’s dream of becoming a journalist started with her passion for literature at a young age.

“Every time there was a book fair at school, I would always get so excited and stock up on books,” she said.

Classics including the Goosebumps books inspired her to start writing. Brianna created stories with themes including love, mystery and horror. Brianna didn’t want to just write as a hobby; she wanted to explore careers in writing. In her freshman year, Brianna became aware of journalism as a profession and was eager to learn more about it. Unfortunately, there weren’t any journalism classes or a school newspaper at Hempstead High School.

So she began to write in another medium — plays. In her sophomore year, she became fascinated with theater. Brianna was inspired by many of Shakespeares works and wrote monologues and scripts for the drama club when she wasn’t competing on the school’s swimming team.

Brianna received much encouragement from her AP English Language teacher, Felisha Prince, who encouraged her “to step out of my comfort zone,” Brianna said.

“Not only did I write stories and monologues, I started writing poems, biographies, and experiences,” Brianna said. “She showed me how to write with purpose, showing me how powerful diction and syntax is. Because of this AP class, my writing has improved so much.”

Just when Brianna believed she wouldn’t have any journalism experience in high school, Prince helped Brianna one last time before her junior year came to a close. Her teacher informed her of the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists at Stony Brook University.

“I jumped at this opportunity,” Brianna said.

When she learned that she had been accepted into the program, her father, Ramon Depra, shared her excitement.

“When she told me about the journalism program, I knew this would be amazing for her because it will challenge her,” he said. “She is always writing, so a career in journalism is perfect for her.”

“I knew I wanted to be a part of this program because journalism is something I want to explore,” Brianna said. “Maybe I can report on plays and musicals. That’s a dream of mine.”

Taylor Yon: Eyeing an FBI career

By Sebastian Germosen
Archbishop Molloy High School

Taylor Yon wants to perfect her journalism skills and use them for a career in the FBI.

“I have always had a passion for writing, and I enjoy putting all of my thoughts on paper, and journalism gave me the opportunity to write in a way that could be read and informing,” said the 16-year-old junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Taylor’s experience in high school, scene of a massacre in  February, has driven her desire to become a part of the FBI.

Though she has no role models in the journalism industry, Taylor admires and respects The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian. She also watches CNN for news and inspiration for her writing.

Taylor has achieved academic success in high school, where she has taken advanced classes such as AP World History and French 2. This year, she will take AP Biology, AP Psychology and AP Language Arts. She said that these subjects will help “broaden my horizon.”

Taylor writes for her school newspaper, Eagle Eye. She is active in health and fitness clubs and enjoys many hobbies and activities, including soccer and tennis, taking hot yoga classes with her best friend and reading.

Taylor’s friends describe her as very outgoing and adventurous, due to her love of trying new  things. Her friends go to her for help with all academic subjects except for math. Taylor’s family [Note: all, who?]  describes her as a person who loves to travel and broaden her horizons by learning about different cultures.

Despite her interest in writing, Taylor wants to attend the University of Maryland or Penn State and major in criminal justice to achieve her goal of becoming an FBI agent.

Attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas — where a gunman killed 17 students and faculty — hasn’t been easy for the students, including Taylor. She has used the shooting as an opportunity to expand her interest in journalism and writes stories beyond the scope of her school.

“The whole world was looking to us, and journalism was an outlet that showed the world we are more than a school shooting,” Taylor said.

When asked about her stance on gun control after the shooting, she said her belief is that people should not have access to assault rifles unless they are in law enforcement.

“I am not anti all guns,” she said. “I strongly believe in the Second Amendment as well, but assault rifles to me are a weapon of war and all they do is cause mass destruction to our country.”

Taylor sees the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists as a great opportunity for her to showcase her passion for journalism and to learn new things about the industry. Taylor learned about the program when her newspaper adviser, Melissa Falkowski, told her and her friend Zoe Gordon about it.

“I was and still am so excited to learn and grow from this program,” Taylor said. “I want to learn as much as I can while I’m there.”

Laila Stevens: Looking at life through a lens

By Emily Palazzotto
Connetquot High School

When she was eleven, Laila Stevens received her first camera and knew photography would be a big part of her future.

“I love that you can create a whole new image, oftentimes one that we cannot see with our own eyes,” said Laila, who will be a senior at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, this fall.

At school, the journalism and the media studies programs are a home away from home for Laila. Since her freshman year, she has been able to explore different aspects of journalism through a series of classes. For her senior year, Laila earned a spot on what she described as the highly esteemed and extremely selective yearbook committee, which will give her the opportunity to incorporate her photography skills into her school day more than ever before.

“I realized there were so many different things to do with just a camera,” said Laila, who was first published professionally in an online magazine at the age of 13. “So many angles, qualities and colors.”

She said she strives in her photography to incorporate messages of racial equality – another one of her passions.

“Although this goal of depicting racial equality is already out there in the world of photography, I feel Laila’s work will be exceptionally unique and moving because she began dabbling in photography at such a young age,” said Laila’s best friend, Laura Morel. “She has a God-given gift.”

Laila has sharpened her skills through gigs such as modeling shoots, and she often plans photo shoots with friends.

“I enjoy spending time with my friends because I believe that it is healthy and opens the mind,” she said. “I take a lot of walks, because it encourages activity without going to the gym. Music also plays a large role in my life. I love that it is an art form that speaks to so many different audiences.”

Laila’s older sister, Amirah, describes her sibling as being determined. “As long as she has been alive, no matter what, once she has made up her mind about accomplishing something, she does it,” Amirah said.

As for college, Laila said she expects to study photojournalism. She describes the Parsons School of Design as her “dream school” but said a State University of New York campus is also a tuition-free possibility because of her eligibility for the Excelsior Scholarship.

Laila said she anticipates her week at the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists will give her more insight into a professional career in photojournalism. “I hope that I am able to learn new techniques to make my photography more realistic for the professional world,” she said.