JEA honors Downes with Linda S. Puntney Teacher Inspiration Award

JEA honors Downes with Linda S. Puntney Teacher Inspiration Award

Mary Kay Downes, MJE

The Journalism Education Association is recognizing Mary Kay Downes, MJE, of Chantilly (Virginia) High School, as the Linda S. Puntney Teacher Inspiration Award recipient.

Downes, who has been teaching and advising for more than 40 years, has been a role model in this field for many years, helping others improve as scholastic journalism advisers and inspiring some of her students to become teachers.

Nominator Katie Frazier, CJE, of Mayde Creek High School in Houston, was on Downes’ Odyssey yearbook staff in 1998 and 1999. After college, she was an elementary school teacher, but when the opportunity to be the yearbook adviser at a new junior high school opened up, Frazier eagerly took the position. While building the program, she said she often found herself wondering, “What would MKD do?” Three years later, her staff was winning awards.

“MKD calls my yearbook her ‘yearbook grandbaby.’ What an honor,” Frazier said. “What a special bond we share — once student and teacher, now colleagues 20 years later. Even my own yearbook students know, love, and respect MKD. They know she’s ‘yearbook royalty’ and regularly ask me, ‘would this get the MKD stamp of approval?’ when they are working on their spreads. Not only has she inspired her own students for decades, now she’s inspiring mine halfway across the country.”

“Advisers around the country turn to her for advice and as an example to emulate,” nominator Valerie Kibler, MJE, said. “Students she has taught remember her and keep in touch with her for years after they’ve left her classroom. She’s a stellar teacher, a perfect adviser, a darn good person and like so many others, I’m proud to call her a friend.”

Downes, who teaches at numerous workshops and at conventions across the country, treats every student, every adviser and every program like she would her own, hoping to build knowledge and ideas in budding journalists.

At the National High School Journalism Convention in Seattle, Mary Kay Downes teaches Sarah Plumlee and Claire Frazier how to position themselves to get the best photos from different angles. Frazier, whose mother is a former student of Downes, also wants to pursue a career in journalism and is editor-in-chief of her school’s yearbook, in part because of MKD.

“The difference she makes in the teaching community is unparalleled, due in part to the fact that she embraces every teaching community she has ever encountered,” Meghan Percival, MJE, and Erinn Harris, MJE, said.

Part of her ability to make such a difference and to keep advisers going is by actively involving them in the processes.

“Mary Kay makes sure that her colleagues are informed and involved,” Percival and Harris said. “Our active participation in local, state and national press associations is due in part to Mary Kay’s encouragement and strong example.”

Downes’s role in the scholastic journalism world as a yearbook pioneer and an outspoken voice for student press rights has had significant impact on many in her region.

“She is known all over the Southeast as the ‘YB Queen’ because of the impact this National Yearbook Adviser of the Year has on the profession,” Brenda Gorsuch, MJE, said. “I am the adviser I am today in large part because of the time and energy Mary Kay has invested in helping my staffs and me.”

Downes will be recognized at the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention in April and will be asked to speak at the JEA Advisers Institute in New Orleans in July.

Founded in 1924, JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, by promoting professionalism, by encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and by fostering an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It is headquartered at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

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