JEA honors Becky Tate as H.L. Hall Yearbook Adviser of the Year

JEA honors Becky Tate as H.L. Hall Yearbook Adviser of the Year

The Journalism Education Association is pleased to name Becky Tate as the 2019 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year. The surprise announcement was made Thursday, Dec. 12 at Shawnee Mission North High School in Overland Park, Kansas.

The National High School Yearbook Adviser of the Year program is designed to honor outstanding high school advisers and their exemplary work from the previous year, as well as throughout their careers.

Seven other yearbook advisers were recognized. Distinguished Advisers: Heather Nagel, CJE, Christ Presbyterian Academy, Nashville, Tennessee, and Margie Raper, MJE, Highland Park High School, Dallas, Texas. Special Recognition Advisers: Logan Aimone, MJE, University of Chicago Laboratory High School (Illinois); Jessica Hunziker, MJE, Castle View High School, Castle Rock, Colorado; Daniel Reinish, CJE, George C. Marshall High School, Falls Church, Virginia; Kristen Scott, Kealing Middle School, Austin, Texas; and Brit Taylor, Hagerty High School, Oviedo, Florida.

A $500 award for the winner’s school, and $500 awards for Distinguished Advisers’ schools may be used to buy equipment for the yearbook classroom or to fund student scholarships to summer workshops. The Yearbook Adviser of the Year also will receive a personal $1,000 prize.

The program is underwritten by Balfour Yearbooks, Herff Jones Inc., Jostens Printing and Publishing and Walsworth Yearbooks.

Tate, CJE, a teacher and adviser at Shawnee Mission North High School in Shawnee, Kansas, has been advising yearbook for 31 years, where she has helped transform the program, helping students create a journalistic book that also displays strong photography.

“Once enrolled in yearbook, students become a part of a family-oriented group, a group that loves to laugh, but a group that demands perfection in all it does,” Tate said. “These students learn that if it is going in print forever, it must be right. And even on late Saturday nights when I am ready to say ‘OK, let it go,’ someone will remind me that we have an obligation to the student body to make sure they receive the most accurate and beautiful book ever.”

This mentality is pervasive in everything Tate’s students do. From interviews to photography, copy writing to design, the students learn to invest in themselves, the school community, and this opportunity, something that has evolved over the nearly 100-year history of the school.

“Shawnee Mission North is one of the two oldest high schools in Johnson County, Kansas,” Tate said. “The northernmost edges of the district border urban Kansas City, Kansas. Because the more affluent suburbs have pushed further south and west over the past 50 years, SM North has a mix of urban and suburban flavors.”

Now, the book consistently reflects the diversity at Shawnee Mission North, and the staff that works to put it together does the same. With this diversity comes more unique story ideas and experiences for them to explore in their coverage.

“One of my favorite moments was watching a student reporter interview another student about her quinceañera,” she said. “They started the interview in English, but quickly turned to Spanish when the reporter recognized the language was a barrier to the story and switched to the student’s native language. She translated the interview and wrote the story that increased sales of the book that year.”

The manner in which that reporter brought out the story and made that student feel is something that is learned and absorbed from being a part of Tate’s program.

“Becky Tate teaches not just from knowledge, but from the heart,” said Susan Massy, a journalism teacher from Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, Shawnee, Kansas. “Tate makes each student feel that she is speaking directly to him or her.”

Tate’s impact on students is often felt long after they have graduated and moved on to pursue their own careers.

“For Tate, it has less to do with the final products her students produce and so much more with how she helps mold strong, smart and engaged individuals,” former student editor Tucker Love said. “She takes the time to find a space for every student who enters her classroom, finding what they are good at and giving them tools to succeed. Her room is a place for kids to struggle and succeed, as part of their entire development into young adults.”

Tate will be recognized formally April 18, 2020, at the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, alongside the following Distinguished and Special Recognition Advisers.

Distinguished Advisers

Heather Nagel, CJE, of Christ Presbyterian Academy, Nashville, Tennessee, is committed to scholastic journalism, and it isn’t just in her own program that she devotes her time to helping programs grow. Over the years, she has taught at summer workshops, worked to build a learning opportunity for advisers in Tennessee, mentored Kent State students, served on the Tennessee High School Press Association and supported schools in Tennessee who are beginning their journalism programs. But even with all of these outside commitments, she still does everything she can for her own students.

“She lays the groundwork by giving students the skills and confidence they need to succeed and then the freedom to succeed on their own terms,” said Linda S. Puntney, MJE and JEA’s former executive director. “She teaches her editors and her staff to be curious, to gather information and to selectively apply it to their award-winning publication. The books her staffs create are a testament to the effectiveness of the way she has developed the program.”

The program Nagel has developed runs like a well-oiled machine, something she builds on every year.

“I try to bring all types of creative forces to the staff,” Nagel said. “In our program, they learn how to work with others to produce a product which requires critical thinking and problem solving when it comes to meeting a deadline. They learn to work with peers to get their pages completed, from writing to design to photography.”

The skills Nagel teaches her students have had a tremendous impact on them in their current and future successes, and they create excitement for students looking forward to being a part of this program.

“Ever since I was little, I looked up to my three older siblings who were on the yearbook staff because they always talked about how much they loved their experience,” Elaina Joy Sanders said. “From the very first day I was on staff, I saw the intention that she exhibited with each and every student. She fostered courageous leadership, creative problem-solving skills, determined resilience, and the value that making a yearbook is a people-first process.”

Margie Raper, MJE, from Highland Park High School in Dallas, knows that transforming a program takes a lot of patience, a good plan and a desire to hold students to their best potential. When she started at Highland Park, her knowledge and skills were put to the test.

“Using the lessons from Simon Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last” and Jill Geisler’s “Work Happy,” the student leaders and (I) were able to make adjustments in the classroom culture,” Raper said. “Replacing a culture of superiority granted to upperclassmen and rookies shouldering the production workload, we adopted collaborative teams to report and produce as units versus individuals. Students were encouraged to revise job descriptions to play on strengths and to use those strengths to support and build up others.”

Raper was able to bring her years of experience to a program that needed significant help, from leadership to photography, storytelling to design. Now, the school’s yearbook is filled with meaningful stories that cover more than the surface of the school and students.

“A story the editors wanted to pursue was the untold story of a popular athlete,” she said. “Prince Dorbah is a three-sport varsity letterman, the only African American student on the football team, and is known for his outgoing personality. However, few people knew that as a toddler, Prince escaped civil war and genocide in the Ivory Coast. His mother died in a refugee camp, leaving him and his older brother in the hands of missionaries to get them safely to the United States. The story was insightful and revealing about this young man who everyone made assumptions about and thought they knew.”

Raper’s dedication to her students and her willingness to push them is what draws out coverage like this that makes a difference.

“Margie is a teacher,” said Cindy Todd, executive director of the Texas Association of Journalism Educators. “She works hard to instill in her kids the qualities needed of a good journalist — not just yearbook staffer — journalist. She models relentless work ethic and strength of character for her students every day.”

Special Recognition Advisers

Logan Aimone, MJE, teaches at a unique program at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School, where the standard football and cheerleading team presence is nonexistent. Instead, he is met with a group of highly motivated, intelligent students for which he facilitates their learning.

“Journalism provides an unmatched experience, and my role is the faciliator,” Aimone said. “I may more accurately be called a journalism coach or consultant because my most frequent question to a student is ‘What do you need from me today?’”

And those needs could vary greatly from student to student, day to day, but Aimone, with 16 years of experience in scholastic journalism is always up for that challenge, finding ways to encourage his students to excel in new ways within the unique school environment.

“I have encouraged students to explore issues around identity, belief, ability and home life experiences,” he said. “I have advocated for more coverage of faith, family and traditions to show students as rounded individuals with varied interests and many talents.”

Aimone’s coaching and guidance for his yearbook program have made a significant difference in producing students who are willing to take control of their product.

“Logan’s guidance has increased the reputation, quality and culture of the journalism programs he advises,” said Jeff Moffitt, MJE, a creative accounts manager for Jostens Inc. “In fact, since he took over, the yearbook program has not only grown, but also thrived. His students have been recognized nationally for their work, winning several awards in multiple categories from photography to coverage.”

Jessica Hunziker, MJE, made it her focus to create a culture of journalism at Castle View High School in Castle Rock, Colorado, when she took over the three-year-old program there.

“Over the last 10 years, the students have had different approaches to their coverage of the student body, influenced by the changes in students, our culture and in response to a more convergent approach to telling the stories of our students,” Hunziker said. “My students match my enthusiasm for storytelling with their own and this really took a step forward when I began advising the newsmagazine in 2015 and the video broadcast in 2016.

“Because of the collaborative nature of the three different mediums, I’ve seen students begin to think differently about stories,” she said. “Stories don’t just ‘belong’ to the yearbook because a yearbooker took the photos. Students consider the medium that best tells the story (sometimes more than one) and they publish their work accordingly.”

Throughout that time, Hunziker also found ways to get involved in scholastic journalism. From teaching summer workshops to serving on the Colorado Student Media Association Board and from judging contests to presenting at conventions, she jumped in.

“She stepped into a lead instructor position for our reTHINK workshop two years ago, and immediately made an impact on how students and teachers think about their media, their staff organization, and their coverage philosophies,” said Jack Kennedy, MJE and executive director of the Colorado Student Media Association. “She is simply an outstanding adviser and mentor to students and teachers alike.”

Hunziker’s success and the success of her students in grounded in high expectations and a desire to get the best out of her students.

“Frankly, to teach and prepare students for life after student media, we do the work,” Hunziker said. “We study and critique good journalism. We set goals and take risks. We reflect on what’s right and wrong and what’s good and bad, and we approach challenges as opportunities to stretch ourselves. Like training to run a race, I do my best every day to – as the adviser – create a culture where working together to tell important stories is what we do.”

Daniel Reinish, CJE, of George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia, jumped at the chance to become a journalism teacher when he was in the midst of a long-term subbing assignment, taking him back to his time as a publications student in high school and college and knowing that the skills he would be teaching would have significant real-world application.

“One of the most important 21st century skills taught in this program is that of collaboration and problem solving,” Reinish said. “The yearbook staff is broken up into a handful of small teams, each with a leader who is appointed by the editor-in-chief. Along the way, students run into the inherent challenges of teamwork. My first step is always to let students try to figure it out on their own — and they frequently do.”

Along with problem solving and collaboration, Reinish gives a lot of attention to students learning communication, technology, and risk taking.

“I work hard to provide students with the tools, know-how, emotional support, time and space necessary to succeed,” he said. “But I also let my students try things that end up not working. I’ve seen many a well-intentioned organizational plan or system of accountability flop. I’ve seen students make decisions that are not necessarily the ones I would have made. This is because, at the end of the day, they need to be able to try things and see what happens.”

And more often than not, when Reinish’s students try things, they find a great deal of success or learn that in failure there is another opportunity to succeed.

“The yearbooks Dan has advised and the relationships he has with the students who make these books are a testament to his talent as an adviser,” said Meghan Percival, MJE and journalism adviser at McLean (Virginia) High School. “Under Dan’s guidance, the yearbook staffs at Marshall High School have created publications that are not only beautifully designed and feature stunning photography, but they are also journalistic. Dan teaches his students the skills they need and then fosters an environment where the student leaders are empowered to make decisions.”

Kristen Scott of Kealing Middle School, Austin, Texas, has had a significant impact on the yearbook world by tackling projects to help make the experience of being an adviser one in which all advisers feel competent and supported.

“In 2019, I created an online course for yearbook advisers delivered through the self-paced web platform, Lessonly,” Scott said. “By taking the course both new and experienced advisers can earn graduate school credit via the University of San Diego for learning strategies to improve their yearbook program that should help make their advising life easier.”

Now in her 10th year of advising, Scott’s advising life continues to get easier through the work she has done to grow her school’s program.

“My first year as an adviser, I started with eight yearbook students, on my off period. They were all students who I had personally called over the summer vacation and begged to help,” Scott said. “Somewhat reluctantly, they agreed. We built the program up from there. In year two, I had 30 applications and filled 20 spots. By year three, I had 75 applications for 23 spots. My current year staff of 26 was taken from more than 100 applications.”

The work Scott is doing is not going unnoticed by those around her.

“I’ve also had the opportunity to watch Kristen work with her own middle-schoolers,” TAJE Executive Director Cindy Todd said. “They adore her. She teaches them skills and encourages them as they find their way with InDesign and Photoshop to create topnotch publications. Her patience is admirable, and it doesn’t bother her one bit to get down on the floor with them to show them how to use their cameras. She recognizes and appreciates the unique nature of middle schoolers and allows them opportunities to just have fun. When those kids leave Kealing Middle School, they are ready to be stars at the high school level.”

Brit Taylor of Hagerty High School, Oviedo, Florida, first began advising in 1994 when part of the job description included newspaper. Not long after, he also signed on to advise the yearbook program. However, it wasn’t until his yearbook representative encouraged him to get involved that he discovered a passion to teach beyond his school.

“In my first few years as adviser, I was a yearbook hermit, with little idea of what the scholastic journalism community had to offer,” Taylor said. “But my yearbook rep, Missy Green, offered me the opportunity to teach a four-day class at Camp Orlando, a summer yearbook camp, in 2000, and I have taught every possible track from basic yearbook to photography to editorial leadership in the 19 years since.”

Taylor not only teaches at this workshop, but he extends himself to other workshops across the country whenever he can. At these, his own love of learning helps him extend his knowledge to the students with whom he works.

“As the former coordinator of a summer journalism workshop where Brit teaches, I know first-hand how much fun he makes learning,” said Renee Burke, MJE and journalism teacher at William R. Boone High School, Orlando, Florida. “Brit’s contagious love of learning is reflected upon those who have been in his classes. His passion, wit, knowledge and experience makes a difference to those he instructs.”

In his own programs, Taylor focuses on continually putting his students in a position to practice real world skills — from talking to their peers to answering parent questions, his students do it all.

“Only a couple of classes exist that put students directly into the situations they will encounter after they leave high school and college,” Taylor said. “Few students will work with yearbooks for a living (and most of us don’t see that coming anyway), but the skills they learn on staff will serve them in any career, and serve them well. I look back on my time as a high school newspaper staffer and then editor, and I know that my people skills would be a fraction of what they are now if I had not had that challenging but growth-inducing four years in scholastic journalism.”

The award is named for H.L. Hall, who was the first Yearbook Adviser of the Year in 1995 and a JEA past president.

The H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year judging committee is composed of former Yearbook Advisers of the Year Brenda Field, MJE (2017); Renee Burke, MJE (2015); Mary Kay Downes, MJE (2007) and Cindy Todd, MJE (2012); plus Jamie Ray.

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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