Over the last couple of years, the Cheektowaga Central High School has participated in PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs. As WBFO's Focus on Education reporter Eileen Buckley discovered, this year the students produced a story about a transgender high school student.
"I was like really curious as to how that all works, with being transgender,” said Tatyana Moses, a senior.
Moses was one of the four student producers who created the video of their classmate D.J. Morley, who was once a boy. Morley is finishing up her second year at the high school. She identifies herself as transgender.
"I realized I was transgender when I was younger, around the age of five, but I never really knew what it was called,” said Morley, speaking in the student-produced video.
The day WBFO visited the high school to meet her, Morley had called in sick. But students gave us permission to access their video work of her story.
"You know that I want to be a female, but at the time I didn't know that was called trans,” explained Morley.
Students in this project learned about Morley's confidence and how it strengthens her to now live as a teenage girl. Daja’vu Romer, a Cheektowaga High School senior, worked on the video project.
"At first it was kind of shocking, but then when I thought about it, everything is changing now in society. It's not that big of a shock to me. She changes in their girls’ locker room, but it doesn't bother me. I see her as a female, not as a male,” Romer said.
"I had a doctor, Dr. Mazur, who basically sat me down and I didn't know what trans was at the time. I didn't know the meaning of it or trans was a thing. So when we talked about it and we discussed my feelings and the way I saw the world and how I saw myself when I'm older, he basically said to me 'You're transgender. This is your title,” said Morley.
The students told WBFO News there is now much attention about transgender issues, so they wanted to focus the topic.
Senior Verliddia Jones was excited to work on the project because she knew nothing about Morley.
"I got to see like what she goes through,” said Jones. "She gets a lot bad feedback and she gets a lot of good and then with her family, they were supportive.”
Senior Kenetria Redfern said she visited Morley's house and met her parents to learn about the transgender youth and her life.
“I learned that even though they are transgender, they are still people, too. They still have feelings,” responded Redfern.
"When DJ came out and said she was transgender, obviously we asked her, 'Are you sure or is this something you are thinking about? Are you sure this is something you want?,” said Morley’s mother in the student-produced video.
"I was initially nervous when they choose this topic, because at that point it was just coming out as a big issue in a lot of communities that were close to us,” said Joel Malley, a teacher at Cheektowaga High School who leads the Student Reporter Project.
"I don't think it really helps kids look into questions that everyone knows the answers of already. Here is this issue and our entire society is coming to terms with it. Here are four, bright adolescents, digging into this interesting and complicated topic, doing it with grace,” Malley said.
The four student producers say they gained a new girlfriend through this project, having bonded with Morley.
“I feel like we helped her and she helped us in a way and we kind of like help society figures things out, as well.”