Desert Dialogues contest: Indio High Rajah breaks Rams' streak

Desert Dialogues: Amplifying high school students' voices in The Desert Sun on conversations surrounding local issues in the Coachella Valley.
Desert Dialogues: Amplifying high school students' voices in The Desert Sun on conversations surrounding local issues in the Coachella Valley.

The back-to-back winning streak by the Desert Mirage Rams has been broken. Congratulations are in order for Brisa Zepeda, a junior from Indio High School. Zepeda's response to last week's prompt, where students discussed the impact of the Coachella Valley on their identity and future goals, earned the Rajah the highest number of votes from readers.

Zepeda, first identified as Student B, said that her understanding of "true humble hard work" was shaped by her parents' dedication in pushing forward in life, particularly as farmworkers in the desert.

"This inspired me to ... become more politically active in my community," she wrote, "and create organizations where I can help can help farmworkers, provide transportation for the workers, help disadvantaged communities, bring medical centers and more opportunities to the valley."

Learn more about this week's spotlighted student below:

Q&A with Brisa Zepeda from Indio High School

What's a song that you're playing on repeat?

"Disfruto" by Carla Morrison

What's a book recommendation you have?

"They're Watching You" by Chelsea Ichaso

What's your favorite quote?

"I embrace mistakes. They make you who you are." — Beyoncé

What's your favorite restaurant in the Coachella Valley?

El Tranvia on 6th St. in Coachella

If you could live in a fictional town, where would it be?

If I could live in a fictional town, it would probably be in Forks, Washington (though it is a real town) because it is where "Twilight" takes place and it's one of my favorite movie series of all time.

What are you proudest of?

I am most proud of obtaining the Optime Award at my school last year since I worked really hard for it and received it in one of the toughest moments of my life.

Who has been one of the most impactful teachers or coaches you've had?

One of the most impactful coaches I have ever had has been Coach Mac. She has taught me the value of dedicating yourself to something you love and has helped me develop important communication skills.

We extend our gratitude to the high school students whose responses we published last week:

  • Heidi Alfaro, Palm Desert High School

  • Mariangela Bautista, Desert Mirage High School

  • Arely Lara, Desert Mirage High School

  • Anthony Martinez-Aritza, Indio High School

Read on for this week's responses — which have been edited for clarity — and vote for the one that resonated with you the most by noon on Thursday. If you wish to provide feedback or more detail about your choice of vote, please feel free to reach out:

This week's question was crafted by Mariangela Bautista at Desert Mirage High School in Thermal, who was the previous Desert Dialogues winner: Picture yourself as your school district administrator, what policy would you change first within your school district and why?

Student A

As a school district administrator, the first policy I would change within my school district would be to prioritize the implementation of a thorough mental health policy. It is no surprise that mental health issues among students have increased at an alarming rate, with significant impacts on academic performance and overall wellbeing.

In 2020, the CDC estimated that one in six children in the United States, ages 2 to 8 years, had a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. Knowing that it starts at a young age should inspire more adolescents than ever to seek help or, at least, be well informed in order to help a friend or someone they know. To address this, I would advocate for increased resources and funding for mental health services in schools, in addition to hiring more counselors, psychologists and social workers.

Moreover, since social media is one of the primary sources negatively impacting teens' mental health, I would ensure to limit the unnecessary use of phones as much as possible, given its integral role in teenagers' lives. Based on studies done by, 32% of teens have reported being cyberbullied online, 40% report feeling anxious or depressed, 42% report feeling more insecure, and so on.

It doesn’t matter if the percentages are less than 50%, the fact is that there are teens out there who don’t receive the help they require. By prioritizing mental health policy within the school district, I would create a supportive environment that allows students to thrive academically and emotionally, which would ultimately lead to better outcomes for all.

Student B

As a school district administrator, the first policy I would prioritize is our stance toward extracurricular activities. Every student merits an opportunity to pursue their interests beyond the traditional classroom setting. A bustling school where every hallway echoes with creativity and enthusiasm. Extracurriculars will no longer be an afterthought — they'll be the heartbeat of our educational community.

To initiate this, I would expand our offerings to include a diverse array of activities, from robotics clubs to debate teams, gardening clubs to coding workshops. Every student should have the opportunity to find their niche and unleash their potential. But that is not all — I would ensure that access to extracurriculars is equitable for all. Financial or transportation barriers will not hold any student back. Scholarships, grants, and partnerships with local organizations will ensure that every child can participate, regardless of their background. Top-notch facilities, guest speakers and field trips will spark curiosity and passion. Whether it is a trip to a science museum or a hands-on workshop with industry professionals, our extracurriculars will spark a lifelong love for learning.

Most importantly, I would foster a culture where participation in extracurriculars is celebrated and valued. These activities won't just be a line on a college application, they'll be the fabric of our school community, fostering friendships, leadership skills and memories that last a lifetime. This new policy is going to take extracurriculars to a whole new level, providing an amazing school experience where every student can thrive, explore and reach new heights.

Student C

If I were a school district administrator, I would change the homework policy. Although it is important to do schoolwork at home, it can be stressful for most students. A lot of students, such as myself, have jobs and responsibilities outside of school. On top of that, homework and academics increases the stress in students' lives. It is true that if you do not work on something and keep learning everyday, you may forget, but I do not think students need packets of homework every day. If I were a school district administrator, I would make it so teachers can only assign up to three pages of homework and 20 questions per night.

Student D

As my school district administrator, I would first change the policy regarding safety on school campuses. For example, at schools across my school district, there are instances where school fights and violence arise, along with other concerns. In order to ensure proper safety for students, I would set up a more secure system with more security guards and possibly police officers who are ready to intervene when anything occurs. This way, schools across the district are sure to become not just more safe, but more welcoming to all of the students. As a student, I know I would appreciate more proper measures in order to make school everyday just as any other student would.

Student E

If I were a school district administrator, a policy I would first change within my school district is the variety of curriculum opportunities are offered. Around the world, students feel their schools do not provide the same opportunities as others do. As a district administrator, I would try to add more curriculum offerings to each school so everyone feels they have something to connect to — whether it be cooking classes, drivers ed classes, parenting classes, etc. Sometimes students do not know what they want to do after they graduate because of the lack of opportunities they have. With additional curriculum opportunities, students will feel they have a purpose or a career to pursue.

Jennifer Cortez covers education in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Teens reflect on school policies; vote for best response to this week's prompt