Hockaday School student Ava Thigpen was one of 10 students from throughout the country selected to participate in the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs workshop. The program, a part of nonprofit Close Up’s civic engagement program, paired 10 students to create videos that explore societal issues. 

Thigpen was paired with eight-grader Laila Gheis from Maryland. They were tasked with making a video profile about each other discussing a topic they cared about. Gheis, whose family is originally from Egypt, shared how immigration has impacted her family, and Thigpen explored mental health issues.

“I hope my video just helps people realize it’s a very important issue, and it shouldn’t just be like shoved aside,” Thigpen says. “If you do struggle with your mental health, you shouldn’t be looked down upon. It’s a very real issue. It’s not something that makes you weak, it’s completely normal. It’s okay to talk about it, I hope people realize that they do.” 

Thigpen found out about the project through her teachers. Interested in filmmaking and activism, she thought the workshop was a good way to experience both.

“I feel like there are a lot of things that are important to me and that I’d like to change, but I’m not the best at like expressing my opinions to other people. I thought that it’d be an opportunity to get better at that and to learn important skills,” she says.

Between coronavirus and social media, mental health has been an issue for Thigpen and her friends. One of her friends, who has asthma, hasn’t been able to attend school in person and hasn’t seen any of her friends in months. 

“It’s easier to feel sad and tired because it’s harder to do things with people because there aren’t as many opportunities. It’s easy to feel isolated,” Thigpen says.

“Sometimes if you feel like sad or upset, you feel ‘I’m the only person who feels like this.’ But really a lot of people feel that way.”