Teen of the Week: Arundel High senior is ready to break the big stories

Wendi Winters
Contact Reporterwwinters@capgaznews.com

Arundel High School senior Rachel Heller found her calling in the midst of her high school years and dove in headfirst.

“Journalism is my No. 1 passion in life,” she said. “I value the trust people have in the media for keeping public and private officials in check and accountable. It’s about getting at the truth. I admire investigative journalism.”

Midway through her junior year, she took a journalism class taught by Steve Perraud.

“I had an awakening,” Rachel said. “My teacher’s passion for journalism rubbed off on me.”

Already active in a number of school organizations, listed on the superintendent’s and principal’s honor rolls throughout high school, secretary for the French Honor Society, and a member of the National Honor Society and two other honor societies, Rachel quickly became a lead reporter at The Pulse, the school’s newspaper, a quarterly printed broadsheet, and contributes to its online daily version ArundelHighNews.com.

This school year, she is the editor-in-chief of the print and online media, handling the tasks of assigning stories, reviewing and editing the results, uploading the articles, writing her own articles, and designing the layout of the quarterly print editions.

“Rachel has helped turn Arundel's nascent student journalism program into a collective which produces a quality, functioning publication in both web and print form,” Perraud said.

He noted her curiosity has pushed her to engage in a depth of reporting rarely seen in the high school environment. “Particularly, she seems to enjoy accessing and analyzing data, and honing her interviewing skills, which many teens shy from naturally.”

He added while Rachel has become an accomplished writer and editor, she has also demonstrated steady leadership both within the classroom and in a club she helped to organize, the Arundel Student Journalists.

“Rachel is one of the most persistent students I know,” said English and literature instructor Kristina Ladika, “who loves learning for the sake of learning. If she doesn't fully get something, she will seek out individual assistance, take notes on our conversation and then perfect the strategies.”

AP Literature and Creative Writing Instructor Ashley Yuscavage believes the teen’s greatest strength is her desire to learn more so that she can keep growing.

“Whether it is as a student in class, a writer, or simply a person, Rachel is genuinely curious and intuitive,” Yuscavage said.

Furthering her expertise in the media, Rachel is a publications and broadcasting intern for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. At the Board of Education building on Riva Road, she works with journalism instructors who need assistance launching their publications online.

A couple times each month, you can find her at C.R.A.B. Radio — Community Radio for the Arts and the Bay — with call letters WYZT-LP at 104.7 FM. It is jointly produced by AACPS and the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. There, she logs data, prepares material for the website, and conducts some of the interviews.

Plus, she is a staff writer for Legendary Women (LegendaryWomen.org), which promotes women in the media.

“I’m all for having more women in more positive and uplifting roles,” Rachel said. “Young women need to see that early on.”

She is an avid reader of The Washington Post, The Capital and The New York Times. Rachel enjoyed watching the recent movie, “The Post.”

“Too often women journalists are tossed aside,” she said. “Spotlight,” a 2015 film about The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, and its investigation into cases of widespread child abuse in the Boston area by Roman Catholic priests, is another favorite. “I like the reporting in they did — someone has to get the story.”

One of her journalist heroes is Luke Harding, reporter for The Guardian in London, who has lived in and reported from Delhi, Berlin and Moscow, and has covered wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. His work has inspired her interest in someday becoming a foreign correspondent and traveling while reporting.

As she learns, Rachel turns around and teaches others. For several weeks last summer, she volunteered to teach French to children at Meade Middle School. Currently, she works an irregular schedule as a substitute teacher’s assistant at the Right Start Academy, a private pre-school in Gambrills.

“Kids are funny,” she said. “I enjoy working with them. They are amazed at the littlest things like science experiments such as ‘tornado in a bottle.’ ”

The Gambrills teen resides with her mother, Michele Knauff, and stepfather, Bruce Knauff. Her father is Lewis Heller. All three are federal employees. She has two brothers, fraternal twins Bryce and Aidan Heller, 15, both Arundel High freshmen.

Rachel is pursuing her passion in college. She has committed to Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications in upstate New York.

“It was one of the last schools I applied to,” she said. “But now I can’t see going anyplace else.”

English Department chair and yearbook adviser Maureen McArdle said Rachel understands the expectations of her chosen field and “has approached every task with dedication to detail and commitment to investigating every relevant aspect of the assignment. She applies this same level of diligence to her classes, as well as to her extracurricular activities.

“I fully expect her to receive a Pulitzer Prize one day.”

Anyone may nominate a Teen of the Week. Send nominations by email to Wendi Winters at wwinters@capgaznews.com.

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