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Investigative reports on activity funds earn top prize in annual JEA Student Impact Award competition

Each August, thousands of students in San Dieguito Union High School District in California pay a student activity fee of $50. Called the ASB (Associated Student Body) fee, the funds are for student enrichment and are only to be spent for the benefit of students. Annually, thousands of ASB dollars are collected and spent.

The MavLife newspaper staff of La Costa Canyon High School, Carlsbad, Calif., examined where student activity moneys come from, how the funds are allocated and the rules governing use of the fund in a package of seven articles, complete with charts.

In the course of their investigation they came upon some questionable expenditures. Reporter Brenna Lyles covered one of La Costa Canyon’s biggest budgets, that of the school yearbook. Her report called into question the cost of the yearbook, given its sizable fund surplus as well as a few of the expenditures. As a result of their comprehensive coverage the local and school district administration instituted new policies and oversight in order to ensure the integrity of the funds. The new procedures also call for the leadership of student organizations to sign off of on purchases made with ASB dollars.

In announcing the 2012 winner of the Journalism Education Association’s Student Journalist Impact Award, the association praised the reporting of the MavLife staff. “The paper illustrates the power of the student press and the impact it can have,” said Kenson Siver, chair of the Impact Award panel. “The articles were not written to sensationalize or blame, but rather to inform and bring transparency to the ASB budget.”

In addition, the judging panel awarded an Honorable Mention to the Davis (Calif.) High School HUB newspaper staff for its coverage on student demonstrations on the University of California-Davis campus. HUB reports were picked up by local and national media.

MavLife is the 15th recipient of this award and will receive a $1,000 cash prize. The JEA Student Journalist Impact Award was created in 1993 with the Kalos Kagathos Foundation to recognize a secondary school student or team of students who, through the study and practice of investigative journalism, have made a significant difference in their own lives, the lives of others, the school they attend and/or the community in which they reside. The Impact Award recognizes student writing that brings issues to the forefront and from the walls of the high school to the world at large.

The award and honorable mention will be presented at the closing ceremony of the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention in Seattle, April 12-15.