Recognition can be such a powerful force.
Over the past couple of years, Smith-Cotton High School journalism students have provided stories to the Sedalia Democrat as part of the Rookie Reporters program. The purpose of the program is fairly simple: Students provide supplemental coverage of the Sedalia 200 district to give local residents more insight into the students, staff and events in local schools. Readers get more local content, and students get published examples of their communications skills. It’s the definition of a win-win.
I get the print edition of the Democrat delivered at home, and when a Rookie Reporter’s story is published I bring the paper to my journalism class to ensure the writer will have a physical copy – if not for them, then for their proud parents. Typically, the student’s eyes light up seeing their work in print. The whole experience is valuable for them, and I am hopeful their stories are of value to Democrat readers.
This year, we went a step further and created the Rookie Reporter Awards. The stories that appeared in the Democrat were divided into five categories: news, features, sports, profiles and commentary. I reached out to former co-workers from my newsroom career to judge the entries and provide constructive feedback, and on Wednesday morning Democrat Editor Tim Epperson and reporters Nicole Cooke and Hope Lecchi helped announce the winners and hand out certificates (Tim also brought donuts for the students, so he deserved an award of his own).
Seniors Jake Kindle (first place in commentary), Eli Kemp (first place in sports) and Chase Plymell (second in sports and second in news for a story he wrote with Kemp) received multiple awards each. Their talent and prolific output was impressive. Still, it was really great to see some younger, less experienced reporters get top honors for their work.
One of the judges, former Democrat reporter Allison Elyse Gualtieri, now is senior editor for education at U.S. News and World Report. She came away impressed by the young journalists’ work.
“I read a lot of work by both professionals and experts, and was gratified at both the quality and the scope of the students’ work,” Gualtieri said. “Glad to see kids out there asking questions and exploring their community.”
Freshman Victoriya Kondratenko won first place in feature writing for her story about how teachers use creativity in the classroom to keep students engaged. She said the award “came to me as a complete surprise. I just thought my work was another school assignment that I had to turn in on deadline.” Fellow freshman Valentyna Usyk, who won the profiles category for her story about two S-C students who are models, said: “It was … really wonderful to hear my name called as I was recognized for my piece. To know that someone read my article and found meaning in it or even just knowing it caught
there attention, while also giving me the right criticism that will push me to do my best, is something that every writer looks forward to consciously and subconsciously.”
Sophomore Blanca Castro’s story about weekly eight-minute ACT preparation lessons won the news category in a bit of an upset over the Plymell/Kemp piece on the future of the former Jennie Jaynes Stadium property. She said she never thought a story about the ACT drills “would become so great.” The award gave her a sense of accomplishment and made her realize she needs to plan for her future.
Each of the underclassmen said the reporting experience pushed them out of their comfort zones.
“I learned to just take the chance and go for it, even if it scares me to talk to people I didn’t know,” Victoriya said. “I learned there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Blanca added: “Putting my stories together after all the interviews and the notes has made me into a better organized person.” The experience made her “realize that I need to believe in myself and in my work.”
After the awards were handed out, I reminded the students that a judge’s opinion is just that – one person’s opinion. Still, it represents validation of the time, talent and effort that went into weaving a quality piece of journalism.
“As I sat listening to all the categories that were being awarded, it amazed me how much work every Rookie Reporter put into each article,” Valentyna said. “I also learned that there are always people who are ready to listen to your story.”
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.