Vionna Peng is an eighth-grader who attends Jefferson Middle School in San Gabriel, northeast of Los Angeles. She found the secret to middle school wasn't in screen time or social media -- but in old-fashioned friendships.
Peng is the current speech and debate team captain. She proudly shows off a purple trophy in her room, "It was against 93 people and I won ninth, so that was pretty good," she says. There are other speech and debate accoutrements. "This is my pen; it says captain.This is my whistle that four of the team captains got. It's green, it has a green lanyard, and it's a standard black whistle. It's pretty cool. And then these are all my medals!" beams Peng.
Reflecting on how she felt in middle school before she found this activity, Peng says: "Before seventh grade, before I met my speech and debate family, I definitely felt really lonely, I think, because now we have social media, and everything just seems to go ballistic," she says.
Body image became an issue. "When you can't control something you're like, 'Oh well, I can control the calories, I can control how much weight I lose.' And I felt like, maybe if I just lost 3 more pounds by next week, I can sit with the cool kids at lunch. So it was just very never-ending pressure," says Peng.