Lesher Awards best of scholastic journalism

Contra Costa schools honored in annual competitioon


California High was named top web page in annual Lesher Awards

Contra Costa County high school journalism students and their advisers, friends and families gathered virtually Thursday, May 20, to celebrate the winners of the 2021 Lesher Awards competition.

More than 60 students representing 13 Contra Costa County high school journalism programs won honors in the annual event organized by CC Spin, a collaboration of the California Scholastic Journalism Initiative (CSJI),  the Dean & Margaret Lesher Foundation, and the Contra Costa County Office of Education

The Lesher Awards recognize excellence in news reporting, feature, sports, opinion writing, photography, editorial cartoons, design, podcasts, and overall news publications. The competition is open to Contra Costa high schools as part of the CC Spin newspaper program and is judged by professional Bay Area journalists and educators.

This year’s ceremony was held via video conferencing because of pandemic guidelines. (There was no ceremony in 2020 because of the shutdown of school campuses due to COVID-19.)

“While we look forward to in-person events in the future, that we were able to bring students together remotely and have them recognized for their hard work was important,” said Steve O’Donoghue, CSJI Director and a Lesher Awards judge.  “They produced remarkable journalism in the face of incredible challenges, and their work deserves to be read, viewed, heard and celebrated.”

Devorah Levine, Executive Director of the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation, said, “High school journalism participants play an essential and powerful role, contributing their voice to helping our community thrive and engaging in civic dialogue. We are proud to continue supporting student journalism in Contra Costa County and congratulate this year’s Lesher Award honorees.”

This year’s keynote speaker was Amanda Y. Su, president of The Harvard Crimson. Su was a CC Spin student editor in 2018 for Dougherty Valley High School. She told the Lesher Awards honorees:

“It’s been a challenging year for student journalists.  I still remember that the best part of working for a high school newspaper was actually getting to be in-person with my friends and peers, collaborating on writing and editing stories, designing the layout of the pages, running around campus covering events and conducting interviews with students, teachers, and administrators. I’ve admired the incredible content all of you have been able to produce through such difficult circumstances and the important work you’ve done to keep your campus communities informed and updated on the latest COVID-19-related news during a period plagued by surely record-breaking uncertainty.”

(More on Su’s remarks here.)

The CC Spin program also grants three cash scholarships for Journalists of the Year. The scholarships are based on essays and the student’s body of work. Announced by Marcus Walton, Chief Communications Officer for the Contra Costa County Office of Education, the recipients  were: Macie Calvert, Monte Vista High School ($1,000), Christine Oh, California High School ($500), and Henry Hill,  Miramonte High School ($250).

Three teachers were honored for their efforts in keeping journalism alive at their high schools by serving as advisers to journalism clubs or in teaching a journalism class. They were Karen Jenkins, Northgate High School, Giana Lillig, San Ramon Valley High School, and Rachel Decker, Dougherty Valley High School

“High school journalism programs are often endangered, but San Ramon Valley High School’s was nearly extinct. Last year, the club consisted of one student,” said Dick Rogers, a Lesher Awards judge. “This year the program is back, The Wolfprint website is alive again, and prospects for next year are positive. Much of that credit goes to Lillig, an inspiring teacher who stepped up to advise the club. She’s inspiring, encouraging, and enthusiastic.”

Rogers said Decker “is at once emphatic and tough. She brings out the best in her students, stands up for them in the face of criticism, and demands high journalistic standards. She inspires her journalists to reflect all aspects of campus life, often taking on big stories that don’t shrink from controversy.”

Jim Finefrock, another judge, said Jenkins “inspired, energized and led Northgate’s journalism club into a powerhouse, publishing an outstanding website with first-rate stories that took many honors in the annual Lesher Awards.”

The 2021 Lesher Awards consists of 14 categories, which includes 11 for individuals and three staff achievements. 

This year the staff category of Overall Publication Excellence was divided between schools with a journalism class and those with a journalism club. This category recognizes a school’s entire range of journalism publications, whatever the platform (digital, print, audio).

First place for the Journalism Class division was a tie between Acalanes High School (The Blueprint) and Miramonte High School (The Mirador). California High School (The Californian) was second and Dougherty Valley High School (The Wildcat) third. 

For the Journalism Club division, the winner was Northgate High School (The Sentinel). Clayton Valley Charter High School (The Talon) was second and San Ramon Valley High School (The Wolfprint) was third. 

For Web Design, California took top honors. Acalanes was second, Miramonte was third, and Dougherty Valley received an honorable mention.

The Podcast category was judged by Devin Katayama, host of KQED’s news podcast “The Bay.” He selected Miramonte’s “Fast Fashion with Ryan Gottschalk” by Ania Sky Keenan as number one. Second place went to Acalanes for “Zack Lara’s Good Ones!”; third place, California for “Beat With Us Dear Freshmen.” Dougherty Valley’s “Wildcat Tribune’s Rapid Review #14” received an honorable mention.

Among first-place individual winners, Investigative/Enterprise honored Jamie Lattin and Binti Sohn (Acalanes) for “Body Image: Piecing Together the Broken Reflection.”

In News, Isabelle Coburn (California) won for “Zoom Class Bombed.”

In Features, the winners were Angela Deanne Paloma and Ronnie Gogoi (California) for  “Covid Choice.” 

Mia Allyson (Northgate) won in Arts & Entertainment for “Madrigals and Belle Voce Sing Out in Countywide A Capella and Virtual Concert.”

First in Sports went to Aria Khalique and Riya Mehta (Dougherty Valley) for “Sexualized Female Athletic Uniforms Devalue Women’s Sports.” 

Editorial was won by Isaac Oronksy (California) for “Priorities for SRVUSD School Board.”

“Reconsider the SRO Program” by Nick Harvey (California) took first place in Opinion. 

The top Editorial Cartoon went to Reese Whipple (Campolindo High School) for “Classroom.” 

Photo of the Year first place went to Meredith Edmonston (Clayton Valley Charter).

Lue Van Handel (Acalanes) won first place in Photography Portfolio for “Lockdown.”

Lesher Award judges awarded Karina Mascorro (Richmond High School) Special Recognition — Enterprising Student Journalist for her reporting for a CC Spin collaboration with EdSource. Edsource is a nonprofit organization providing education news and research on the California school system. 

“Mascorro wrote for CC Spin and Edsource about important issues in the time of Covid and under difficult circumstances,” said judge Carol Pogash. “She was just beginning her journalism career and had to conduct all interviews online. She was able to give readers a sense of what it was like for teenagers to have to keep their distance and have their summer plans and more destroyed by the virus.”

Six CC Spin student editors received “Outstanding Student Editors” recognition for 2021. They were:

Allison Petek, Audrey Allen, and Alisha Nazar, Miramonte High School: “The ‘Triple A’s’, who were the three top editors of the Mirador, the Miramonte newspaper, crushed expectations in a difficult year by publishing both an outstanding print newspaper and a top-notch website,” said Finefrock. They were among the most responsive student editors CC Spin has ever had.”

Jason Shin, Clayton Valley Charter High School: “Jason revived the school’s newspaper, The Talon, not only by starting the school’s journalism club and rallying students to the cause, but he taught himself how to create the website,” said Bruce Koon, a judge. He stuck with his vision even after last year’s pandemic forced students into distance learning and worked tirelessly over the summer to keep the team together. Now Clayton Valley has a vibrant school news site and CC Spin has a new source of terrific stories.” 

Adelaide Berrett, Northgate High School: “Adelaide was also the editor of the school’s online newspaper, The Stampede, and notable for her energy, enthusiasm and hard work,” Finefrock said. “She is also a graceful editor and resourceful leader.”

Jamie Lattin, Acalanes High School:  “Co-editor-in-chief of The Blueprint, the Acalanes High newspaper, Jamie is a renaissance person,” said Finefrock. “She not only whipped the paper’s staff into shape and edited articles, she wrote thoughtful, intensively researched stories and served as Acalanes’ student editor for CC Spin.

O’Donoghue said the mission of California Scholastic Journalism Initiative’s CC Spin program is to assist Contra Costa County high schools in training students to better understand and appreciate the role of a free press in our democratic system, the ethics and appropriate behaviors of journalists, and to protect and value the First Amendment in our society. 

“Our goal is a student newspaper in every Contra Costa County high school that is a voice for student concerns and measures up to the highest journalistic standards,” he said. 

A complete list of all winners and finalists are available on the CC Spin website.