GSS correspondent Taha Rashid on the roof of his high school in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Global Student Square: Our Year in Review 2015–16

Three words: Connect, collaborate, create. Plus: Empathy, define, ideate, prototype, test.

If you’re reading this and nodding your head, chances are you recognize at least five of the words above— empathy, define, etc., — as steps in a design process aimed at pushing that really cool idea you had at 4 a.m. into something that’s actually concrete.

In our case, it’s a new way for high school student journalists around the world to come together to produce stories that combine local reporting and global perspective. In other words — to connect, collaborate and create.

As Global Student Square winds down its first full school year, we’re glad to report that we’ve moved from prototype to test, doing real stories in real time in real places around the world. One hundred stories in the past nine months, give or take, on our website and on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

And while the only thing we know about a design process is that we’ll repeat it—to iterate means never really leaving square one — we can report some early gains, and some clarity about what comes next.

About this time, last year

We launched exactly one year ago today, at the John S. Knight Festival of News Innovation.

Like all the Knight Fellows who presented their projects, our tools were modest: one small round table, one easel, and $150, which we promptly spent on Snacks From Around the World — Swedish fish, rice crackers from Vietnam and Cadbury Crunchies for our BFF from the BBC (you’re welcome, Cordelia).

The montage above, put together by one of our funders, was all stock photo. We knew there were students out there who would be part of Global Student Square. We just hadn’t met them yet.

One year later, here’s where we are: Below are Global Student Square’s first correspondents, real students from Paris to Pakistan and South Korea to Oakland, California. As of this writing, we have more than 100 correspondents in 10 schools plus individual students in cities around the world. And more of them are joining every week.

Connect, collaborate, create: It’s happening.

First Days, first stories

We kicked off the year with First Day, a look at the first day of school as it takes place around the world.

Initially, we were confused when our correspondent in Brazil sent us a set of dimly lit photos taken on a cellphone in Itaim Paulista, a poor neighborhood in São Paolo:

Students walking to school in Itaim Paulista, Sao Paolo, Brazil. Photos by Mariane Rodrigues/Global Student Square.
Left to right: Mariane and friends at school.

But then student Mariane Rodrigues explained what was going on: Her school was actually a night school, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. The rest of the day, she worked at a tech support center. In her neighborhood, where a cellphone can be more valuable than money, taking selfies on the street was not safe. Luckily, Mariane had friends who protected her as she worked.

Mariane’s revealing photo essay was followed by others, including “Chasing the Dream” of college in Islamabad, a senior worrying about her “last first day” of high school in Stockton, and refugee students in Oakland hoping that the American Dream is still alive.

Each of these stories began with the same “day,” but each day was different. Which was, we realized, exactly the point.

Students shoot hoops on the first day of school in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photo by Taha Rashid/Global Student Square.

Golf and the DMZ

Our next stories came from Korea, where we partnered with students at Chadwick International School in Songdo to cover the Presidents Cup golf tournament as well as the increasingly tense border between North and South Korea.

For the golf stories, students got press credentials, took photos, created “follow the money” infographics that showed where the Cup’s charity funds go, and conducted person-on-the-street interviews, not easy in a place where student journalism is rare and privacy is a cultural priority:

A trip to the Demilitarized Zone offered a chance to walk through the Third Infiltration Tunnel, where student Kiran Dwivedi learned firsthand why it’s a good idea to wear his safety helmet:

Dwivedi also visited a new train stop at the end of the Dorasan line. The station had gleaming turnstiles, electronic timetables and uniformed attendants. But the platform was oddly quiet:

Why? Though it’s possible to stand next to the tracks and see right into North Korea, there’s a border in the way:

A metal fence on the South Korean side of the border prevents access to a field, overseen by a guardhouse on the North Korean side. Photo by Kiran Dwivedi/Global Student Square.

And that’s not the only problem.

As Dwivedi wrote in “Next Stop: Pyongyang,” fewer and fewer South Koreans have family members living in the North. Incomes, education and the Internet are huge divides. And whether or not South Koreans even want to become part of a unified Korea is not clear.

“It’s a mystery what will become of the DMZ,” wrote Dwivedi, who was born in Bonn, West Germany’s capital until it reunified with East Germany in 1991.
“No one can foresee if it will continue to separate two fully independent Koreas. Or like the Berlin Wall, perhaps it will come crashing down.”

#parisattacks and climate change

Next up was the COP21 climate change conference in Paris, but before we could do that came the Nov. 13 terror attacks. GSS editors in California got an early warning via WhatsApp, as students from the American School in Paris returned home from sports and school and jumped on their phones to report chaos in the streets.

Led by editor-in-chief Thibault Messeri, students took to Twitter all night and into the next morning, working with GSS editors to relay reports from France 24, Le Figaro and other European media, along with what they were seeing and hearing:

Correspondent Jonah Zigman strapped on a GoPro and headed to the Place de la Republique:

Video by Jonah Zigman with editing by Sloane Valen of the American School of Paris.

Messeri wrote an editorial entitled “We Will Report” and his staff stood behind the work in a video in which each line of the editorial was voiced by a different student, a brave move in a time of fear:

Using a drone, students also traced the iconic peace sign that became synonymous with the attacks:

Over the next few weeks, Global Student Square partnered with ASP and the Green School of Bali, Indonesia, to cover COP21, including stories about plastics, bicycle-powered batteries and the plight of orangutans being burned out of their habitats in Borneo:

GSS editor Bethany Ao traveled to Paris to cover the Conference of Youth, which drew 5,000 youth activists, musicians and artists to discuss climate change:

(Above right) Takai’ya Blaney, 14, a member of the Sliammon First Nation in British Columbia, spoke on indigenous peoples’ rights at COY11. Photo by Caelie Frampton via Flickr/Creative Commons licensed.
An estimated 5,000 students attended COY11 in Paris Nov. 26–28. Photo by Bethany Ao/Global Student Square.

The Trump factor and #IStandWithMuslims

As the U.S. presidential campaign quickened in January, GSS received a call from Alexandra Hennessy, a student at York Community High School in Elmhurst, Illinois.

Raised Catholic, Alex was outraged by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims from traveling to the U.S.

GSS connected Alex with Hannah Shraim, a Muslim teen at Northwest High School in Germantown, Maryland, who had already written for GSS about President Obama’s trip to a Baltimore mosque.

Together, Alex and Hannah came up with #IStandWithMuslims, an Instagram interfaith campaign. Launched on Super Tuesday, it has produced more than 200 original photos and thousands of likes so far.

(Left to right) Students Hannah Shraim and Jahnavi Muralidharan, both 17, kick off the #IStandWithMuslims campaign. “This is important not only to portray solidarity with Muslims, but also to stand against bigotry in all forms,” Shraim said. Photo by Jacob Shraim.
Alexandra Hennessy covered the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ 5th annual “Muslim Day at the Capitol” in Sacramento, California, on April 25, 2016. Photo by Jack Hennessy/Global Student Square.

Week by week, more stories came — and not only writings, but infographics, cartoons, videos, timelines and photos, from breaking news in Brussels to a remarkable day in the life of a person who is trying to live — and eat — on the minimum wage:

Cartoonist Lauren Fritschi of Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in Los Angeles created this cartoon overnight after the terror attacks in Brussels on March 22.
Students at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Stockton, California, kicked off a collaborative project called “What’s On Your Plate,” examining what it’s like to live and eat on the minimum wage for one day.

Michael Regan, a student in Chicago, reported on violence at Trump rallies there in “Silent No More,” while Hannah Shraim showed young Muslimas how to rock the hijab:

GSS correspondent Michael Regan filmed students at a Trump rally in Chicago in March.
GSS correspondent Hannah Shraim launched “Libre Looks,” a new YouTube channel where she hopes to help other Muslim teens talk about the cultural and spiritual influences on their lives.

As the year progressed and students in various parts of the world began to recognize, edit and comment on each others’ work, a sense of community developed, particularly for students like Taha Rashid, reporting from Pakistan.

“Global Student Square is an avenue to express yourself like no other,” said Rashid. “You realize you’re not alone in this drive to connect.”

Sponsors, partners and supporters

No one can do much alone, so we thank those who’ve supported, republished and helped spread the word about our work over the past year:

School Newspapers Online

And one angel investor, whose support has meant the world to us.

A special shoutout

Our hardworking team of student editors over the past year — most of them college students — also deserves thanks, not only for their millennial wisdom, but for a sense of humor and a fierce dedication to task that would make any newsroom proud.

Founding editor and AP style maven Simon Greenhill, news editor and social media goddess Bethany Ao, “educated Googler” and webmaster Xavi Boluna, graphics whiz Mara Pleasure, and iPhone videographer Veronica “V-squared” Vargo, you rock.

Stanford student Jack Hennessy, who not only jumped a fence in order to escape a bombing attack at Istanbul’s Dolmanbahce Palace last August but went back to do a story that got picked up by Global Voices, deserves special thanks for sticking with us all year and pushing us to be better than we thought we could be.

Student editors and journalism advisers at each of our participating schools, we thank you most of all.

What comes next

Prayer flags on a barbed-wire fence at the DMZ in Korea. Photo by Kiran Dwivedi/Global Student Square.

We’re journalism educators, so for us the year begins in September and ends in June. But as all teachers know, summer is when the next year’s vision takes root. We’re planting those seeds and stories now.

Black lives matter, and not only when young black men get gunned down. Refugees search for home, but they are not alone. What does America’s next president mean for America’s next generation? How has your cellphone changed you? What does it take to be happy? Global Student Square’s correspondents will be working on these and other stories in the months ahead, with the understanding that other things can happen. And they probably will.

Part of that means reaching out to you.

Without support, we can’t hire the editors, pay the correspondents, travel to schools in places where journalism needs to be, and create the conditions for students to add their voice to the news mainstream. It will take $3,000 to set up our new online classroom including monthly editorial meetings, $1,000 to hire a student editor for one month, $100 for two tickets on the next bus from Seoul to the North Korea border, $10 to reimburse a student for lunch while she’s covering a demonstration at the California state capitol. Real money for real students = real stories.

If you agree that millennials need to be reporting, writing, shooting and editing stories about tomorrow today, now is a good time to support the Square. Click here to donate.

If you’re interested in becoming one of our participating schools, contact executive director Beatrice Motamedi at

If you’re interested in joining our advisory board, contact Beatrice and please attach a CV and letter telling us why you want to jump into student journalism and global citizenship with us.

And if you are a student with a story, click here for our homepage, fill in our submission form and tell us what’s going on in your world.

Logo by Mara Pleasure.

It’s been a year since we rolled out our idea for a platform that would give students a chance to speak up in ways that move their societies toward change. We’re not there yet, and there will be many more early mornings and midnights ahead.

But that’s okay. Cordelia left us some Crunchies.

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