I was lost when I got to Crescenta Valley High School as a 9th grader. My friends from junior high wanted to be popular. They soon realized hanging out with me was not going to get them there. I didn’t have any real friends, only girls I stood next to during snack and ate with during lunch so I would not feel like a loner. My grades suffered. I got my first and only D in typing (yes, typing was a class in the late 1980s) because I was chronically tardy. I was not connected to anyone at school and drifting into invisibility.

Then journalism happened my junior year. Because I thought I needed an extracurricular activity for college applications, I applied and was accepted to be part of the journalism staff. It was a yearlong class and every two weeks, we wrote all the articles and literally cut and pasted together the school newspaper. My life changed after joining journalism.

Yam (short for Ms. Yamaguchi) set high standards for good writing and she treated us like people…not teenagers. She told us stories about her life and she knew each of our stories as individuals. If there was a love crisis or family drama, we told Yam. I ate lunch in the journalism room, I stayed hours and hours after school in that room especially if we were under deadline. I was part of a team. Many classmates became good friends, and together we produced a real product every two weeks. I learned to appreciate working hard and feeling proud of what we accomplished.


Today, I am still proud of this 2-page center newspaper spread (see photo) focused on drug use prevention, a topic I chose, researched, and wrote by myself. It was the first time I conducted interviews with adults outside of school, like Brian a recovering drug addict. I interviewed Brian at his house while my mom waited outside in the car. I remember feeling nervous and scared to cold call, schedule and conduct an interview with the director of the St. Joseph Drug Rehabilitation Center for my story. These newspaper pages are from 1989 and I keep them as a reminder of feeling challenged by an assignment, facing fears, and gaining self confidence as a result.

Yam used to joke, “Everything you will ever need in life, you learned in journalism.” She was right. I don’t remember much of what I learned in high school, except for what I learned in journalism. Journalism taught me how to write under pressure and to take deadlines very seriously, a handy skill for grant and report writing for current my day job. Journalism taught me to spot spelling and grammatical errors without trying, which I used a lot as the final final proofer for when I worked on the Kentucky statewide test and Nevada High School Exit Exam at my day job with WestEd. Finally, journalism taught me to work in a team. An added bonus, I learned to cold call without fear. In writing this, I feel compelled to publicly thank Yam:

To Yam: I want to say thank you, Yam! I am deeply grateful you took a chance on a shy Asian girl and welcomed me into your journalism family. It wasn’t just producing a newspaper every two weeks that made journalism special. You created an environment where it was safe to be an awkward teenager and explore who I wanted to be. I felt safe to take risks and make mistakes because you always had my back. You stayed in the classroom everyday during lunch and after school so we always had a place to go where we felt at home. Thank you for transforming my public education experience. And most importantly, thank you for being my friend, my advocate and my mentor. I would not be who I am today without you.

Was there someone who made a difference when you were going to school? Please share in the comments section. Thanks for reading!