One article at a time

Discovering her passion for writing at a young age, Athena Wu ’24 aims to empower youth through journalism and create change in her community one article at a time.

Athena+Wu+24+is+the+founder+of+The+Rocket+Times%2C+Van+Allen+Elementarys+school+newspaper.

Photo courtesy of Athena Wu

Athena Wu ’24 is the founder of The Rocket Times, Van Allen Elementary’s school newspaper.

The world of writing always intrigued Athena Wu ’24. From crafting intricate lines of poetry to illustrating magical worlds through the genre of fantasy, Wu has always been entranced by literature. It was at the end of her fifth-grade year, however, when her passion for writing and vision to better represent her peers came to fruition when she launched the Rocket Times, Van Allen Elementary’s student-run newspaper.

“I felt frustrated that people looked down upon elementary school kids and thought we couldn’t do many things, so I wanted to change that. I wanted to prove that elementary school kids could do things,” Wu said. 

Wu gathered a group of her classmates with the hope of creating an outlet where she could further develop her writing skills and create lasting change in her school’s community. Despite beginning with just four members, Wu was determined to pursue this vision. 

Athena Wu ’24 poses in front of Van Allen elementary. (Photo courtesy of Athena Wu)

“I wanted this newspaper to bring more life to the school because it felt like elementary school students did not know of our school events to look forward to,” Wu said. “I thought that maybe with a newspaper, we would be able to bring light to these events and have more communication between the younger grades and older grades.”

Wu began by touring the West High newsroom and reading through stacks of previous WSS publications. Inspired by the bustling energy and environment of the WSS, Wu used her fifth-grade classroom as her own newsroom where she held weekly meetings with her peers.

“We would start our club meetings with an icebreaker, then mostly discuss ideas that we had and could improve upon. We then started to draft articles and copy and paste them to the online platform that we used,” Wu said.

Weeks after their initial meeting, the first issue of the Rocket Times was published on Smore with the help of a group of WSS staffers. From articles about handmade slime and fidget spinners to Mother’s Day celebrations, the first publication of the student-run club was read by students, teachers and parents alike. 

“We wrote about things that normal elementary students would be interested in. We also wrote about school events,” Wu said. “We printed six physical copies, but most read our issue on Smore. The reaction was great, and many told us they enjoyed it.” 

It was very much a pleasure to work with the kids; they were all highly motivated to learn about the field of journalism and how they can use it to engage and influence their school community.”

— George Liu '19

George Liu ’19, a former WSS staffer and mentor to the Van Allen students, was particularly impressed by their motivation and determination. After volunteering to help set up the newspaper and publish the first issue, he was excited to see the Rocket Times’s success.

“It was very much a pleasure to work with the kids; they were all highly motivated to learn about the field of journalism and how they can use it to engage and influence their school community,” Liu said. “It was refreshing to see this level of interest at their age.”

Wu’s fifth-grade teacher, Bridget Laroche, also realized that her students had more than enough initiative and passion to achieve great things. The Rocket Times offered a space for students not only to write but to interact with other students outside the classroom.

“The newspaper club gave students an opportunity to be involved in a different sort of club than what was previously offered. We found that many students really did want to be involved in something,” Laroche said. “Some students joined because they loved to write, but many joined for the social aspect.”

As time passed, more students began to show interest as curiosity about the newspaper and its upcoming issues escalated. The group of four slowly transformed into a club of over 20 students.

“I was kind of surprised that my idea had worked, but once it did, I hoped that the club would get even bigger. I wanted people to want to read it and for classmates to actually enjoy writing,” Wu said.

Behind every issue of the Rocket Times was weeks of preparation. Staffers of the newspaper came together weekly to discuss current events, upcoming school assemblies and popular trends amongst students. They also encouraged other students to submit short stories, poetry or other pieces of writing to the student-run newspaper. 

Ridley Hazeltine ’24, a founding member of the Rocket Times, believes the club gave her a peek into the field of journalism and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create lasting memories with her peers.

The atmosphere [of the club] was wonderful, as all the members were so supportive, and we had some really inspiring discussions,” Hazeltine said. “I think the best part was being able to pursue an opportunity that a lot of other kids may not have, starting a club and really making the most out of it, as well as getting experience as a journalist.”

As several more editions were published, the attention of parents and teachers, as well as the opportunities it offered for elementary students, made the Rocket Times a success. 

It was great to think that even as a shy kid, I could get out and change something, no matter how small.”

— Athena Wu '24

“It was great to think that even as a shy kid, I could get out and change something, no matter how small. That was the confidence boost that made it worthwhile to keep up with the newspaper,” Wu said.

After graduating from Van Allen and passing the Rocket Times down to future generations, Wu continues to pursue journalism and is currently taking Foundations of Journalism to further her career in writing.

“Back then, journalism seemed like a way that I could show that kids can do something and also use something that I’m strong at, which is writing,” she said. “I’m glad I started the Rocket Times because I could prove that kids can do big things if they put their mind to it.”