PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Gabriella Kadjo wants to help all students feel included at Platteville High School.
To do so, the 16-year-old and her friends launched a school club to bring together students across different races, genders and ages.
“We just hope to continue to make an impact … and change the school system because we feel like the school system wasn’t built for minorities,” said Gabriella, who is Black. “We really just want to change that so that it’s inclusive for all.”
Gabriella helped start her school’s Diverse Student Alliance last school year in an effort to give students a space to connect, share their struggles and feel included.
“Our town is literally White. There’s not a lot of diversity,” she said. “For the students that are people of color, we wanted to unite them together, and even for students who aren’t a person of color if they want to join us, so we can all unite together.”
Club members are working to start a mentoring program that will connect them with younger students in the district.
“We feel like it would be really cool to go out to … our elementary school and talk to kids there if they need any advice or mentorship,” Gabriella said.
She said DSA members seek to make sure their school is working to create an inclusive climate and to find ways to recognize the different cultures represented on campus.
She said that when her family moved to Platteville in 2016, she felt alone because she didn’t see many minorities in the community. She felt lost and started to act differently, hating her hair because it looked different from her classmates.
“With DSA, it teaches people that, no, you don’t have to be exactly like this group. You can be who you are, unapologetically,” Gabriella said.
Emily Zachary, an English teacher and inclusion advocate at Platteville High, is advising the DSA group. She described Gabriella as someone who is resilient, constantly learning and a strong advocate for inclusion and diversity.
“It’s not her job to educate us, and it’s not her job to share her story, but she willingly does it, and it makes all of us better,” Zachary said.
Gabriella also enjoys finding other ways to help her community. She previously was part of her school’s Key Club and participated in multiple volunteer efforts through that group. She now is in National Honor Society and is starting to participate in its service opportunities.
Gabriella said she likes volunteering in part because of all the different kinds of people she gets to meet and work with.
“At the end of the day, we’re all human,” she said.