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CSPA Names Debra Klevens the 2023 National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year

On March 1. 2023, the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) named Debra Klevens the 2023 National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year.

Klevens, an English teacher and publications adviser from Parkway West High School, in Ballwin, Missouri, was selected from among 11 teachers nationally.

Additional honorees include four distinguished advisers: Adriana Chavira, Daniel Pearl Magnet High School, Lake Balboa, California; Sarah-Anne Lanman, Munster High School, Munster, Indiana; Tamara McCarthy, James C. Enoch High School, Modesto, California; and Margie Raper, Rock Hill High School, Prosper, Texas.

In addition, Glenn Krake of West Linn High School, West Linn, Oregon, was named as a special recognition adviser.

The selection panel for the honors included: David Ragsdale, 2022 Teacher of the Year, Clarke Central High School, Athens, Georgia.; Lori Keekley, NSPA Associate Director for Quill and School; Kathleen Zwiebel, 1998 Teacher of the Year and Columbia Scholastic Press Association Chair of Judging Standards; and Rebecca Castillo, Associate Director, Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

The National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year Awards program is managed and sponsored by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association of Columbia University in the City of New York and co-sponsored by Dow Jones News Fund.

The awards will be presented at the CSPA Spring Convention at Columbia University in New York City on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

CREATING A CONVERGENCE MEDIA PROGRAM
Klevens explained how she merged two publications, the PAWESEHI yearbook and Pathfinder newspaper into a Convergence Media program to replicate industry trends.

“As a result, my classroom could appear to be a Starbucks drive-through to the outside world. Students take my class whenever it fits their schedule—with Levels 2-4 all in the classroom at any given hour.”

More than 130 students are enrolled in Parkway’s Convergence Media program.

As Erinn Harris, the CSPA 2020 Teacher of the Year, explained, “To run a truly converged media program requires logic and organization that I honestly do not possess. I have never been able to wrap my brain around how to make it work. What classes do kids sign up for? How does communication work? How do deadlines work? How does anything work? Do you know who has the answer to those questions? Debra Klevens. Her brain works in ways mine never could. She sees solutions to problems and ways to implement innovative ideas. It’s just who she is.”

ADVISER AS COACH

Klevens views her role in the classroom to be a coach who empowers students to push beyond their wildest expectations. She said, “They are often surprised at the success they find in my classroom. They don’t realize what they are capable of because for many of them this is the first time they feel believed in by someone.”

A program feature is the “Speaker Mondays” series. Each seminar highlights professional journalists who share their journey. Klevens said, “My goal is to show students how their skills are transferable in the real world.”

Parkway West High School Principal John McCabe wrote, “There is no doubt that the students take their responsibilities as journalists very seriously. They know that facts are facts and they can publish true information—even when it may not sit well with everyone. But the deep thinking and thoughtful conversations they have in making these complex decisions represent real-world learning at its finest. I respect their training and the approach they take to planning coverage that includes and represents the many faces, voices and interests of the entire school community.”

Abby Narishkin, senior producer at Business Insider and graduate of the Parkway West program, wrote, “Her pride for her kids, current and former, was palpable and radiant.  It’s a glow that represents the passion that Debra Klevens pours into each student. For Debra, the kids of Parkway West High aren’t just passing through the halls. They’re each, in their own way, a permanent installation in her heart. I hope to continue living my life as an extension of Debra Klevens. I hope to choose passion and purpose every single day, just like she does, leaning on the communication and people skills learned inside her walls. She began my precious journey of self-discovery and, as I keep growing, I only hope I can become half of the inspiration for future journalists that she is for her students.”

ISSUES FACING SCHOLASTIC JOURNALISM

Suicide attempts by students, the pandemic, administrative changes and faculty burnout created multiple challenges.  Reflecting on what the issues are facing scholastic journalism, Klevens said, “It’s funny how the world changes you and your community. Thirty-six months ago, I would have answered this question with media literacy or students’ press rights. However, in our new reality, the most significant issue is one we can't ignore, and it affects all advisers, teachers and humans: the mental health of our community. While I can’t control their home lives, I can focus on making each student I interact with feel safe—and special. While their eagerness and grandiose plans for 2022 fell flat when reality set in, they struggled to juggle multiple responsibilities. I couldn’t give up on the kids. They needed me. They were not okay. The ramifications of 2021-2022 have been tremendous. It has put life into perspective and presented a new set of challenges as an educator. Because I see, hear, and listen to them, I know there is a bigger problem than a yearbook and newspaper problem. There is a human problem that needs addressing. Mental health is the greatest challenge.”

Klevens will receive a plaque and be featured in a live interview at the CSPA 2023 Spring Convention. She will also receive four waived registrations to the CSPA Summer Workshop, available for either Klevens or students of her choice.
 

DISTINGUISHED ADVISERS
Each distinguished adviser will receive two waived registrations to the CSPA Summer Workshop, available for either the distinguished adviser or students of her choice. Advisers will receive a plaque.

Adriana Chavira advises the award-winning journalism program at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School, Lake Balboa, California. Since July 2022, she has served as the academic at-large director for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which represents more than 4,000 members from around the world. Chavira cites the violations of student press rights as the most pressing issue facing scholastic journalism. She wrote, “Only 16 states offer First Amendment rights to student journalists. We need to help the other states get legislation passed to offer student journalists these freedoms through New Voices laws. Even in states that have press freedom rights, such as California, many administrators or school officials aren’t aware of them and violate student rights. So, I want to also raise awareness of student rights in these 16 states.”
 

Sarah-Anne Lanman directs the Publications Department and advises the newspaper and yearbook at Munster High School, Munster, Indiana, for the past nine years. Both Crier, the newspaper, and Paragon, the yearbook, have received CSPA crowns and NSPA Pacemakers.

Lanman wrote about her role as adviser, “As a young adult at Munster High School, I never belonged. I never fit. Anywhere. I floated and lurked and lived in my head. Come ninth or tenth grade, I decided the most “cool” kids in the school were the yearbook kids. I wanted to be a part of that group. So, I set myself on a path to get there, and then, once I did, finally—I fit. I belonged. The program I’m building for students, including recruitment and diversity initiatives, seeks to fill the same hole I felt in myself during high school. I would never say that my program is color-, or gender-, or difference-blind, but no matter what the student looks like and whatever their background, my number one goal is to fill this same void—to give a sense of belonging in a building that seeks to flatten differences.”

Tamra McCarthy advises the Crown and Pacemaker award-winning Wingspan yearbook at James C. Enochs High School in Modesto, California. McCarthy believes in the importance of diversity both on staff and in coverage. She explained, “Students are recruited in a variety of ways—from word of mouth and student staff recommendations, as well as from specific departments and programs on campus who understand what we are looking for and submit names for one-to-one outreach to specific students. We create a culture of diversity on our staff and in all we do, as reporters telling the story of the year, making sure to include students from a variety of cultural/ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, religious/nonreligious backgrounds, gender to nonbinary identities and other varied interests and experiences from athletes to artists and everything in between. Diversity is our greatest strength as a staff because our book reflects the diverse backgrounds of the publication staff who serve a student population of more than 2,400 students.”
 

Margie Raper is the director of Rock Hill Media and leads the national award-winning publications program. This includes the Top News broadcast and the Blue Hawk yearbook. She also assists with Hill Top Times online, Rock Hit Radio, and Blue Hawk Studios. Raper cites the mission of Rock Hill Media as striving to connect the community and campus with authentic and creative storytelling by empowering student voices through multimedia expression.

Raper sees a need to help rookie advisers. “Supporting new advisers and encouraging the retention and inclusion of more diverse advisers is what is going to help journalism education not only thrive, but just survive. Without passionate journalism educators, without students with the courage to be storytellers, journalism—not just journalism education—is in trouble. A rookie adviser in survival mode is more concerned with checking bureaucratic boxes, staying off administrative radar and just learning how to be a teacher. A supported journalism adviser will grow into a confident leader and advocate for their program as long as they feel secure in their connections and resources.”

SPECIAL RECOGNITION ADVISER
Each special recognition adviser will receive one waived registration to the CSPA Summer Workshop available for either the special recognition adviser or student of her/his choice. Advisers will also receive a plaque.

Glenn Krake advises multiple publications at West Linn High School in West Linn, Oregon. Krake wrote, “As I’ve built the student media program over the past 15 years at West Linn High School, I have helped students brand wlhsNOW.com as the home of student media. Under that umbrella, students produce several publications, which have included over the years, newspapers, newsmagazines, yearbooks, online news, broadcast publications, podcasts, blogs, and literary magazines.”

Krake sees social media as the game changer in journalism.  He wrote, “It could be easy to lament the ‘good old days’ when society trusted trained journalists to curate and filter out the nonsense. That sort of gatekeeping has gone away as social media has created a new generation not of ‘journalists’ per se, but of ‘content creators.’ The role of social media in our society has come to the point where we don’t just need solid journalism from some trusted sources to keep us informed. Instead, we need EVERYONE to learn how to navigate content (consuming AND producing) for our society to progress. There needs to be a heightened level of news literacy not just amongst the next generation of career journalists, but amongst the next generation of citizens.”

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Founded in 1925, the Columbia Scholastic Press Association unites student editors and faculty advisers working with them who produce student newspapers, magazines, yearbooks, and online media. Students come from public, private and faith-related schools and colleges throughout the United States and from overseas schools following an American plan of education. The Association is owned and operated by Columbia University.

The Dow Jones News Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes careers in journalism in the digital age. Our vision is robust news media staffed by well-trained, innovative journalists who reflect America’s diversity and are dedicated to a free, strong and fair press. The News Fund is supported by Dow Jones, Dow Jones Foundation, other media companies and private donations.

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