Alumni Feature: Jannah Issa
Jannah Issa, a senior at Hampton High School, Virginia, is the epitome of a stellar scholar-athlete with a deep commitment to community service. From sports and tutoring to HRCAP’s Project Discovery and her involvement in the YMCA Youth in Government program, she has proven the ability to excel while gracefully managing several priorities.
Jannah attended the Policy Pathways 2021 Summer Academy for Policy Leadership and Public Service Online (SAO) in conjunction with Project Discovery, a college awareness initiative sponsored by the Hampton Roads Community Action Program (HRCAP). Ten HRCAP participants, roughly half of this summer’s cohort, also enrolled in the two-week virtual SAO. HRCAP provided a distraction-free computer lab for participants to access SAO’s college preparatory policy-focused curriculum and course content. The computer lab, with administrative support staff and wrap-around services, helped maximize students’ learning and improve retention in the SAO.
After completing the two-week Academy, Jannah continued on through the ensuing five-week Policy Pathways Internship Program that introduced interns to research methods, statistics, and data analysis. She says the internship was more informative by going even “more into depth about actual policy-making and how to break it down into ethical things, even to a science with statistics.” Interns, who also completed the SAO, received a $1,000 stipend through the generous support of HRCAP and the Hampton Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
Jannah plays an important role in her local YMCA’s Youth in Government Association, whose workings with governmental policies is akin to Policy Pathways’. She serves as Secretary of State, managing communications with other Youth in Government chapters. There are even some international YMCAs involved, which “is cool, knowing it’s all over the place, and not just right here,” she says.
Jannah describes Youth in Government as the process of “amending a bill or creating your own bill. [At the end of the year], usually in DC, is the Model General Assembly, where you go and debate your bill with other Ys around the U.S. All the things I’ve been learning from Policy Pathways is making me more ready when we go to debate; ready for what someone might say or argue against my bill. I see that I need to fix this, I need to fix that.”
Her previous bill dealt with blind prosecution to remove biases and prejudice towards people of color. “Each member of Youth in Government must bring their own bill,” Jannah says. In the interim, “We mainly focus on bettering our community and what we can do!”
Earlier this year, she helped orchestrate a Teen Town Hall for friends and community members to discuss topics they were passionate about. The successful open mic-type gathering drew about 50 people on the tail end of pandemic-induced gathering restrictions. She and the rest of the cabinet hope to attract more teenagers to her YMCA and Youth in Government program in the coming months via mental health nights to fortify relationships between young people in Hampton and support their voices.
Jannah is currently in the throes of volleyball season at Hampton High, which will make way for soccer come December. She is also involved in the International Baccalaureate program at school. An extra set of courses more rigorous than Advanced Placement classes, it provides “a buffer between high school and college.” She says that “instead of focusing on one area of study [through IB], you’re covering something worldwide.” This academic time management, combined with all her other activities, is part of Jannah’s plan to attend an Ivy League University after graduation.
Princeton is one of her top choices, with Stanford as the dream school; both offer leading Computer Science programs, her intended major. She says of combining her policy interests and computer science, “When you write code, you need various pieces of code that all work together, and in policy, you need all your pieces for it to run smoothly as well.” In both respects, she explains, you work in a team, and coding and building websites in the future is just the sort of collaborative career she could envision for herself.
“I’m not really one to stay quiet,” Jannah reports. “Even when I was in elementary school, I was known as a talker.” In that respect, she anticipates joining many clubs in college: “I’ll want to be some sort of representative or president to make sure I’m putting my actual input into the club [versus being] a bystander. A college campus is essentially its own town or city, so you have to treat it as its own community. I will one hundred percent keep involved in community advocacy.”
This next year will be pivotal for Jannah; Policy Pathways, for one, will be eagerly following her course and always here to support her endeavors.