Local Youth Recognized by SNO for Reporting

Archer School freshman Maya Hernandez’s article for the school newspaper (“Severing Stigma with ‘Sexplained’: Junior Hosts New Sexual Education Podcast to Educate Through Conversation, Transparency”) was selected for “Best of SNO” recognition.

School Newspaper Online (SNO) is the largest provider of online and mobile publishing solutions for scholastic and collegiate journalism programs.  SNO hosts more than 3,000 student news sites and receives nearly 14,000 submissions for Best of SNO each year. Only about 10% of these submissions receive recognition and Hernandez, a Palisades resident, received that recognition.

Leaning into the microphone, junior Ella Dorfman stands in the recording booth to record the first episode of her reproductive health podcast, “Sexplained.” The podcast was inspired by her ninth grade service project focused on sexual health, and Dorfman said she likes to tackle difficult topics with conversation. “Even if you’re scared, you’ve just got to talk about it,” Dorfman said. “Talk about it: that should be tattooed on my forehead.”

Hernandez’s story is below:

(Disclaimer: This article contains language and topics relating to sexual health, pornography and sexual organs that may not be suitable for all ages and readers.)

 Six years ago, sitting in her fifth-grade sexual education assembly, junior Ella Dorfman learned about the topic of sexual education and realized it was a subject her peers felt clueless about. Discovering many of them didn’t discuss these topics with their parents, she felt confused about where their information would come from.

When Dorfman arrived in history teacher Meg Shirk’s ninth grade history class years later, she was finally able to activate her passion for youth sexual education through a service-learning project. She felt youth perspectives were lacking in more prominent sexual education resources, even when their audience was primarily teenagers. Dorfman said she wanted to create more resources for teens because when young people don’t get their information from trusted adults or reputable sources, it is often untrustworthy.

“Because kids are learning from pornographic videos — they’re learning from untrusted websites, really dangerous places and aren’t receiving the education they need,” Dorfman said.

Dorfman discovered TeenSource, an educational website that provides factually accurate information about sexual health. She applied to be the Los Angeles representative of TeenSource’s California youth board of eight people and now works in analytics for the website, ensuring all of their data is accurate and accessible.

“I got the job, and that’s skyrocketed me into the sex-ed universe,” Dorfman said.

Shirk said she noticed Dorfman’s curiosity and passion as soon as they met and described Dorfman’s approach to communication and stigmatized topics as compelling.

“When she’s talking about these things, you just want to listen, and you know, I think that’s just who she is in her DNA,” Shirk said. “She’s just being her authentic self, but I think with such a sensitive topic, her personality mixing with the topic is just such a beautiful, beautiful thing.”

Dorfman is a member of the Service Squad Executive Board, where she also mentors students who are pursuing bronze, silver and gold awards for completing community service. She also participated in a service hotline this semester, which aimed to help students who are struggling with their service projects. As an adviser for the Service Squad, Shirk has seen Dorfman’s leadership skills and said she is always ready to tackle a new project with a smile on her face.

“Ella is one of the few students that does the hotline, and she gives such incredible advice,” Shirk said. “Having students that can share their own journeys and stories with others is what I dream about.”

Ivy Woolenberg (‘25), a friend of Dorfman’s, said she is always willing to talk to her peers and share information, a quality she thinks makes her work so effective. She said Dorfman inspires other students to work on service.

“I think just being a resource to have conversations, not only through her podcast and fostering that space, for — to have good conversations about sexual education,” Woolenberg said, “just being really open to talk about those topics that are sometimes stigmatized.”

Looking for a way to bring her passion to the Archer community and answer questions she felt people around her were wondering, Dorfman developed “Sexplained.” The podcast works to tackle topics of sexual health in an educational and age-appropriate manner. The first episode discussed female genitalia, a topic she said she felt would catch an audience’s attention, as there are many misconceptions about it. In future episodes, she plans to feature a menstrual expert and define critical sexual health terminology to make sexual health more accessible.

Dorfman urges young people to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations with friends and adults in order to educate themselves. She said the best way to break the stigma around sexual health is through conversation, and when people don’t have those conversations, tension builds.

Dorfman said she feels rewarded seeing students’ ideas change because of her work.

“When I get the opportunity to, [I try to] change someone’s perspective of sex ed — I think often there’s a stigmatization of sexual education is dirty or inappropriate,” Dorfman said. “When I get the opportunity to transfer someone’s perspective, I can’t tell you it could bring me to tears — it brings me so much joy.”

At the Archer in Action Fair, Dorfman talked to students about the campaign she’s involved in,  YHES4CONDOMS, which works to make free condoms available in public schools statewide. Her booth worked to get her peers interested in similar work.

Woolenberg said she has seen Dorfman’s activism grow over the years through the service she has done.

“Through her work with TeenSource, I’ve seen her definitely grow through … having the opportunity to connect with different people with similar passions,” Woolenberg said.

Dorfman said she showed her grandmother the podcast and explained to her the many misconceptions about female genitalia. She said the goal of her podcast is to help more people become fluent in these types of conversations.

“My Jewish grandma, and I love her so much, but she’s 77 and didn’t even know this stuff,” Dorfman said. “It shows so much of our society about how little education there really is.”

This story was originally published on The Oracle https://archeroracle.org/106607/features/severing-stigma-with-sexplained-junior-hosts-new-sexual-education-podcast-to-educate-through-conversation-transparency on December 14, 2023.


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One Response to Local Youth Recognized by SNO for Reporting

  1. mary elizabeth horan says:

    I appreciate the intelligent and thoughtful work of both those enterprising teens.

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