Behind My Scholastic News Cover Story About a Nine-Year-Old Syrian Refugee

At Scholastic News, one of our goals is to cover complex news topics for kids in a way they can understand without feeling overwhelmed. I’ve covered a lot of difficult topics in four-plus years as an editor at the magazine—from immigration to the war in Afghanistan—but none has felt as timely, complex, and important as the cover story I wrote for our January 4 grade 5/6 issue.

Back in October, when the refugee crisis in Europe really started making headlines, we had decided that we wanted to cover the topic for fifth and sixth grade students.

Whenever we write stories about complicated issues, we try to feature a kid who is about our readers’ age to make the story more relatable. After pursuing a few different leads with organizations overseas, I reached out to an organization in Texas that helps refugees resettle in the U.S. The people there helped us set up an interview with a family who had arrived in the U.S. from Syria only a few weeks earlier. We planned a pretty straightforward article that would compare that family’s journey to the U.S to that of the millions of refugees traveling to Europe.

On the morning of November 13, I had a phone interview with a 12-year girl named Reem, her father, and her younger brother. I conducted the interview through a translator because the family spoke only Arabic. Reem seemed sad and a bit hesitant as she talked about leaving her home city that had been destroyed by war, traveling for 23 days to Jordan, and spending a night in a refugee camp. But by the end of the interview, she seemed truly excited to speak about her new life in the U.S.

And then, later that day, the news broke of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Within days of the attacks, many politicians in the U.S were calling for a ban on Syrian refugees. The story I was writing was getting more complex by the day. And yet, it also seemed to grow more significant.

Like all good journalists, at Scholastic News we feel it’s important to present all sides of an issue. The January 4 cover story does just that. It also gives students the opportunity to read about a kid their age who overcame great odds. I hope it will spark some passionate class discussions.