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caption: Participants in RadioActive's 2020 Advanced Producers Workshop during an online meeting. 
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Participants in RadioActive's 2020 Advanced Producers Workshop during an online meeting.
Credit: KUOW photo/Mary Heisey

RadioActive's 2020 through stories and photos by teens

Even though we couldn't meet in person for most of the year, RadioActive Youth Media still worked with about 300 young people in 2020.

We taught radio journalism skills on Zoom. Youth producers recorded interviews within their Covid-19 bubble, or via the web. They created makeshift home studios in their cars or closets.

Through all of the struggles of this year, RadioActive youth producers created 29 original radio stories, podcasts, and photojournalism essays. If you missed any of these incredible perspectives from young people, catch up with the stories below.


caption: Eight-year-old Diem Pham holds her 1-year-old cousin Kim Pham at a refugee camp in Malaysia in May 1980.

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"Mama, can you tell me the story of your escape from Vietnam?"

This is how RadioActive's Sarah Pham begins a piece about her mother, Diem Pham. When Diem was a child, her parents put her on a small boat, where she spent 10 days at sea and six months at a refugee camp in Malaysia.

Sarah combines poetry with an interview with her mother in this powerful work of art.

"Not everyone's great-grandma sold moonshine and slept with a gun under her pillow. But my great-grandma did."

In this bilingual piece, RadioActive's Luis Hernandez Vargas introduces us to his great-grandmother and the lessons she taught Luis and his mother about gender, growing up and moving on.

Fitsum Habtemichael was given a choice as a 17-year-old when the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea began: leave his family behind, or remain and become a solider. He decided to leave.

His daughter, RadioActive's Samrawite Habtemichael, talks with her dad about the decision and the journey that followed.

RadioActive's Ruby Lee is Korean and Irish. Her great-aunt Sue immigrated to Seattle from Seoul, South Korea when she was about the same age as Ruby is now.

Talking to her great-aunt made Ruby realize how little she knew about her family’s history. And she realized that “history” isn't always one collective story. Instead, it's a messy combination of memories and perspectives.


caption: Morgen White: "This is a photo of me getting ready for work in the morning. I work at Trader Joe’s in Ballard, in Seattle. I always put my mask on before I leave the house." 
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RadioActive's Morgen White is an 18-year-old from Seattle who works at Trader Joe's in Ballard to help support her family during the coronavirus pandemic.

Morgen, who recently graduated from Ballard High School, chronicled her life during these past months through photos — from working at a grocery store, to graduating, to accompanying her mom, a dog walker, to the park.

During the pandemic, movie theaters replaced showtimes with words of reassurance, churches began advertising online services, and teachers expressed their love for their students in signs taped to classroom windows.

RadioActive's Paul Kiefer scoured the greater Seattle area in search of these signs.

RadioActive's Jadenne Radoc Cabahug set out to photograph what quarantine looks like in her Renton neighborhood. She captured images of neighbors, and her own family members, through their windows.

RadioActive's Marian Mohamed is the oldest of five children, and does most of the grocery shopping for her family in Kent, Washington.

Grocery shopping used to be a simple task for Marian, but now a trip to the grocery store poses a threat of exposure to Covid-19.

High school graduation looked different for the class of 2020.

RadioActive’s Meghana Kakubal and Lila Shroff documented their graduation from Mercer Island High School, chronicling intimate moments with friends, as well as the logistics of a drive-through graduation.


caption: Hosts Asemayet "Mimi" Zekaryas and Essey Paulos pose for a photo on Zoom. As many schools switch to online learning due to Covid-19, some students thrive while others fall behind. How does inequities in school funding play a part in these disparities, and which students are the most vulnerable? 
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How do you make the switch to online learning when you don’t have wifi at home?

RadioActive’s Mimi Zekaryas, Essey Paulos and Charlotte Engrav look at the resource gap between schools in wealthy areas and those where most students come from low-income households.

Ahmed Ahmed grew up in South Africa and moved to the U.S. when he was 15.

RadioActive's Kouther Ahmed talks to her brother Ahmed about his transition from middle school to high school — and from South Africa to SeaTac.

For students of color, having a teacher with the same race or ethnicity has been shown to improve test scores and reduce the likeliness of disciplinary issues.

RadioActive's Gabe Rambayon's basketball coach and teacher, Jeffrey Forbes Jr., is a Black and Native man. Gabe says, "having a teacher like Forbes has changed my life."

Many immigrant students in the U.S. are discouraged from speaking their native language. For Regina Elmi, the loss of her native languages was her biggest regret.

RadioActive's Hebaq Farah talks to her aunt Regina about how her experiences led her to start an organization to help families and educators support immigrant children.

Lisa Chua's son has ADHD and an autism spectrum disorder, which made it hard for him to succeed in a traditional classroom. So Chua made a choice to leave her career behind and homeschool her two children.

After 10 years of homeschooling, RadioActive's Emily Chua just graduated high school. She tells her mom's story.

RadioActive's Charlotte Engrav attends one of the first high schools in the area to make the switch to online learning early in the pandemic. She shares what that experience was like for her.

Dan goes to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, and got Covid-19 right after the fall semester started.

RadioActive's Natalie Newcomb talks with Dan and his roommate Campbell about navigating the pandemic in the social environment of college.

"I grew up in an immigrant household, and a lot of our values are around education and being the best and trying to survive. And college is a way to survive."

Karishma Vahora is a senior at the University of Washington and the first person in her family to go to college. She's a role model to RadioActive's Adar Abdi, who will be applying to college soon herself.

Nova High School principal Eyva Winet works to amplify youth voices.

As a non-binary high school student, RadioActive's Lyn Strober-Cohen shares some of the lessons they've learned from Winet.

Many students with disabilities were not able to transition to online courses when schools closed because of the pandemic.

RadioActive's Meghana Kakubal talks to a special education teacher about the disruptions to education faced by her students.

Arts & Life

caption: A pedestrian crosses an empty 4th Avenue on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Seattle. On March 23, Gov. Jay Inslee announced he would sign a statewide order that requires everyone in the state to stay home in order to curb the spread of the virus. At the time, the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order was to last for two weeks and could be extended. 
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During the lockdown, the restaurant industry was only hanging on through online orders and deliveries. But for Luis Hernandez Vargas and his mom, those orders were how they made their rent.

RadioActive's Luis Hernandez Vargas shares his story of driving delivery during the lockdown.

"I wanted to stop for months. I just couldn’t do it. I’d wake up everyday and promise myself I wouldn’t get high, and by noon, I was blacked out."

By the beginning of high school, Coltrane Fisher was heading to rehab.

RadioActive's Jared Lam talks to his friend Coltrane, a 17-year-old musician who is now in recovery, about making it through that time.

RadioActive's Abdul Hameed felt a big lump in his throat each time he got up to speak in front of people. He gained confidence through a public speaking program for young people, and shares his experience.

Camila was 17, and four months sober, when the pandemic started. She says that not being able to attend meetings in person made things "ten times harder."

RadioActive's Jared Lam tells her story.

Some expectant parents right now may be wondering what the future holds for their kids. Liza White carried a child during 9/11.

Liza's child, RadioActive's Morgen White, talks with her mom about what it was like to be pregnant during 9/11, and what new mothers can take from that experience.

The dangers of getting forced into sex trafficking are something that everyday teenagers are warning each other about online. But the information shared in videos is often misleading.

RadioActive's Jadenne Radoc Cabahug has the story.

Cowboys. Big standoffs, big guns and even bigger personalities. In a tiny town in Washington state lives a man who believes he's a part of that world. A reporter searching for a big story meets this scorned "cowboy" and thinks she's found it.

This is a fictional podcast produced by RadioActive's Joshua Fernandes, Morgen White and Lucas Galarneau, with production support from Zuheera Ali.


caption: Girls Court Judge, the Honorable Melissa Hemstreet, sits in the courtroom after a Girls Court session. 
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The Kitsap County Girls Court opened in June 2019 as Washington state’s first court system providing service just for girls. At Girls Court, the probation experience is different.

RadioActive's Lila Shroff went to see the court in action.

Make no mistake — Gen Z thinks about body hair. RadioActive's Celia Fragale says she and her friends are more accepting of their body hair than past generations.

High school student Sancha Gonzalez thinks a lot about what she wears for Mock Trial, a club where students imitate an actual trial as attorneys and witnesses. Like many other places, women at Mock Trial have to conform to an unwritten dress code.

Ritika Managuli talks about how judgment of women’s clothing choices starts pretty young.


These stories were created in KUOW's RadioActive Intro to Journalism Workshop for 15- to 18-year-olds and Advanced Producers Workshop for high school and college students.

Find RadioActive on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and on the RadioActive podcast.

Support for KUOW's RadioActive comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center.