Aria Rani Sindledecker
The Full Story
I’m 14 years old and will be a 9th grader in the fall. I live with my mom and dad, and have a dog named Wicket. It has been four years since my journey to change the world has started, and I’ve learned and grown so much.
I had been feeding on the uncontrollable desire to write, as I was raised to read. I started writing my first Upper Middle Grade novel, Age of Aliens: Safire & Igneous, the summer before I turned 10. Shortly after, in the spring of 6th grade, I published it. In February of 7th grade, I published my second novel, Age of Aliens: Azul. From a young age, I saw the importance of empathy. Throughout the series, the main character harnessed her empath powers for good. The importance of empathy in my life only grew stronger as I grew older.
Soon after publishing my first novel, I began to realize how powerful the gift of reading and writing is, and partnered with Worldreader to combat illiteracy across the world. My goal with them was to raise $3000 to give an Anganwadi school in India access to a digital library with 500 books. I achieved that goal two years later.
My journey didn’t stop there. Over two years ago, during the height of the pandemic,
I watched the Social Dilemma, a documentary that discusses social media’s effects on teens and tweens. I learned that suicide rates in females between the ages of 10 and 14 have soared 150% between 2009—the start of social media—and 2019. This made me wonder, why have we been so silent about this? Why do we let these deaths keep increasing, when we could do something to stop them?
That same year, in 7th grade, I joined my school’s Broadcasting class, during distance learning. The broadcasting teacher, Mr. Tom Sayer, recommended that I create and submit a film to the C-SPAN StudentCam documentary competition. So, I created my first award-winning documentary short, “Power to Save a Life,” about how teaching teens and tweens Digital Citizenship can help teens navigate social media in a healthier way.
Quickly after it won honorable mention, my first documentary was played on our school’s announcements. The current school counselor at that time saw it and a few days later, she recommended me to the Mountain View-Los Altos-Los Altos Hills Challenge team. The MVLA Challenge team is an organization made of educators, police officers and community members dedicated to bringing awareness to, and solving problems in our community. They gave me the opportunity to share my voice about youth mental health, particularly about social media. There, I met the head of the Challenge Team, Mrs. Gay Krause.
Soon after, near the end of my 7th grade year, as I continued to study my peers and mental health, I created a student-led, peer-to-peer, anti-stigma club at my school called the Empathizers. This club made me realize how important peer-to-peer communication and support is, and built a passion in me to fight for it to be in all middle and high schools.
Over the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years, I started a summer book club for elementary school students. Reading and literacy are so key to a person's life, especially during childhood. That's why I'm trying to help the kids who need the extra practice. So many parents don't have the time because they work multiple jobs, and aren't able to teach their kids the importance behind reading.
A few months later, I created my second award-winning documentary, Stigma-Free Nation: Pathway to Parity, about how proper enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act is crucial to eliminating the mental health stigma. For this documentary, I won first place for middle schoolers out of the over three thousand people that submitted their documentaries for the C-SPAN StudentCam contest. This opened so many doors for me and introduced me to so many new people.
In October of my 8th grade year, I spoke at the Krause Center for Innovation during their SELebrate Learning Event. In January, thanks to Dr. Stephen Hinshaw, one of the interviewees from my second documentary, I was the only student on a panel hosted by the SF Commonwealth Club for the UCSF
Department of Psychiatry. I also joined the Mountain View Teen Advisory Council (TAC) for the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) at the beginning of my 8th grade year.
In April, I spoke at the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies Town Hall. In May, I was the keynote speaker at the Mountain View-Los Altos-Los Altos Hills Challenge Team’s 35th Annual Champions for Youth Breakfast.
About that time, I joined the Youth Advisory Board for the California Children's Trust and the California Coalition for Youth. I’m also a HEARTS Youth Mental Health Ambassador and Research Intern at UCSF, working with Dr. Lisa Fortuna and Dr. Michelle Porche to educate myself more on the scientific aspects of mental health.
I have recently become a Consultant for the Stanford's Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing's Strength in Youth curriculum. This new curriculum is being adapted from the Strength in Us curriculum (for adults), and my job is to give feedback on those changes.
Next year at Mountain View High School, I will be starting a chapter of the Bring Change to Mind anti-stigma club as the club president. I will also be Freshman ASB President, and hope to use my voice and leadership to promote unity across the school campus.
I am so passionate about mental health and literacy advocacy, but I still have downtime. In my spare time, I love watching tv and eating pizza on Friday nights with my family. I love watching cheesy movies with my mom and talking with her for hours. I love hanging out with my friends and making one another laugh. I love reading about other’s experiences and traveling to different literary (fictional and non-fictional) worlds.
These are my passions, and this is only the start of my journey to make a difference in our world.