By Julia Turner

In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that schools could censor student newspapers. This decision led to students’ formation of free speech community newspapers in various cities, including Atlanta.

VOX was established in 1993 by a group of teenagers and adult volunteers in response to the isolation, lack of resources and mediocrity in student newspapers as a result of the ruling. Rachel Alterman Wallack, the executive director of VOX, was a local journalist at the time who volunteered at various youth programs in the city.

“I knew there wasn’t a place for student voices in our community,” Wallack says. “VOX grew out of Atlanta youth’s need for a resource through which they could vocalize their opinions and concerns.”

As executive director, Wallack provides strategic vision for the paper in concert with the teens and the board of directors. She heads up fundraising efforts (VOX is nonprofit), strategic partnerships, and supports the adult staff – two professional editors, Katie Strangis and Rich Eldridge – who work directly with the students at the VOX offices in Downtown.

Opportunities offered by VOX are available to all teens in the Atlanta area for free. Teens can choose the commitment level at which they’d like to get involved. The VOX teen staff is composed of about 100 students who choose skill-building activities to participate in throughout the month. These activities range from writing and technology workshops to outreach programs. The staff meets every other Saturday to plan the upcoming issue, assign stories and brainstorm ideas.

The staff office of VOX is set up like a professional newsroom, and teens are excited about what the space and the paper has to offer.

“VOX is beneficial because it enhances your skills, and not just in writing,” says Brianna Curtis, 16, from Booker T. Washington High School.

Brianna works on the newspaper’s website with another student staff member. The students were adamant that VOX’s uncensored nature was a key element in its benefits to students.

“It’s a creative outlet for the new generation,” says Lydia Briggs, 16, from Arabia High School.

If a staff-level commitment is out of a student’s time range, there are opportunities to be contributing writers or simply participating in workshops offered by VOX and its volunteers. VOX will host workshops or programs anywhere they are asked, but also targets outreach to adjudicated youth, refugee and immigrant communities.

VOX actively encourages youth involvement in community service, and not just in its staff members. According to VOX’s 2010-2011 Impact Evaluation, 74 percent of their readers have decided to do something positive, such as volunteer work, because of something they read in VOX.

VOX also hosts a summer learning program called Media Café. The program is a cross between summer camp and class with four beginner-to-intermediate classes in visual storytelling, reporting, interactive media, and literary nonfiction and two advanced courses in literary nonfiction and visual storytelling. Teachers of the classes are community leaders who also have expertise in the subject area. Because VOX strives to maintain a diverse environment, one third of the attendees of Media Café will be on scholarship. More information on the program, the application, and scholarship opportunities are available on VOX’s website, voxrox.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.