Student Activist: Arieanna McKnight

Cheryl Gerber Photographs

Arieanna McKnight, a student at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), is a Level 2 Culinary Arts Student, 10th grader in the Academic Studio and highly involved with the nonprofit Rethink.

Rethink is an organization that helps New Orleans students have a voice in New Orleans Public Schools.

As part of Rethink, McKnight mentored a group of younger students who entered an architecture contest and created a model of their dream school, which included features such as: making it handicap accessible; adding low flow toilets and sinks using aquaponics; and replacing metal detectors with Student Intervention Teams. McKnight says, “Student Intervention Teams that greet students at the doors, detecting students’ ‘moods’ and giving them assistance with their problems rather than checking for weapons as if they’re in jail.”   

The team ended up winning first place at a competition in Houston and went on to the regional championships in Washington D.C.

“I got involved in Rethink because it was a way for me to have my voice heard in my community, to make changes and make my community how I wanted it to be,” she says. “When you focus on changing your own community you can go on to change your country and the world – you can start small and achieve big things.”

As a student in New Orleans, McKnight has benefited from the successes with Rethink. The organization got rid of “sporks” in public schools in New Orleans and is in the process introducing “Instant Recess:” 10-minute exercise breaks in the classroom. All new Recovery School District schools will have a school garden because of Rethink’s efforts.

McKnight also participated in Pecha Kucha presentation on Rethink’s Food Justice Program for World Pecha Kucha Day. Pecha Kucha is a style of presentation that requires a speaker to speak for 20 seconds per slide and have 20 slides in the presentation. She was scared because she presented in front of a big group of people – mostly adults. Once the speech was over, she was so overjoyed that she finished because she was the only teenage presenter in a group of adults. “That’s what Rethink does: create opportunities for kids to have a voice in places where usually only adults make decisions about our future,” she says.

Other than volunteering, McKnight likes to cook, draw and fold origami. One day, she would like to be a chef and business owner while owning a chain of restaurants and a bakery. She wants to improve her community by serving healthy, organic foods and buying local to help the environment and local economy.

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Lee Cutrone is a freelance writer and native New Orleanian who lives and works in the Crescent City. Fascinated by the decorative arts since childhood, she has circled the block on numerous occasions to get a second glimpse of a well-done house and writes about them for our pages. She appreciates a diversity of styles but says there are three things she especially likes included with a home of her own: A loving pet (or two), an aromatic sweet olive, and the nearby sounds of the Mississippi River.