Pollard, Williams receive JEA’s Medal of Merit
By Erinn Harris, MJE, awards committee chair
Two individuals who have contributed significantly to the Journalism Education Association and to scholastic journalism throughout their careers will be recognized this fall as Medal of Merit recipients.
The award recipients are Rebecca Pollard, MJE, Lovejoy High School, Lucas, Texas, and Callie Williams, Astronaut High School, Titusville, Florida.
Rebecca Pollard, MJE
As former chair of the JEA National High School Journalist of the Year contest, Rebecca Pollard, MJE, made a lasting impact on the Sister Rita Jeanne Scholarship program, shifting the program to a totally digital platform, increasing awareness through diligent publicity and aligning the application with JEA curriculum modules — all while advising student media at Lovejoy High School in Lucas, Texas.
“She tackled the challenge like a champ, working in person and virtually to reassure skeptical state directors and opponents of the proposed changes,” JEA President Sarah Nichols, MJE, said. “She developed tutorials and how-to materials. She counseled advisers and students. She communicated with me often, always considering feedback and making continuous improvements but finding solutions on her own, taking initiative, checking in and thinking of what would best serve students in the portfolio and competition process.”
In addition to her JOY leadership, Pollard served as an instructor for JEA’s Partner Project in Memphis, Tennessee. The Partner Project is designed to help journalism teachers and their students through on-site outreach as they develop sufficient skills necessary for producing student media and creating national networks of support.
“Rebecca has a knack for quietly observing and assessing a situation and then prescribing a solution in a calm and meticulous way,” JEA Vice President Valerie Kibler, MJE, said. “In a few short days, she developed relationships with students who had no idea who she was or where she came from.
“She earned their respect by caring about them and their programs, and by displaying a passion for her subject that’s rare in many teachers. She was integral in changing the motivation level in those kids 180 degrees in just two days.”
Relationships are at the core of what drives Pollard to serve not only her peers and colleagues in JEA but also her students — any student, really.
“You see, for Rebecca, it’s not all about her. It’s about kids,” Kibler said. “She teaches journalism, yes, but more importantly she builds character and strength in young people. How? She’s a model of all things I would want my own kids to be.”
“Callie Williams, one of the kindest, hardest working advisers I know.”
Florida Scholastic Press Association President Brit Taylor used these words to describe Williams, who advises yearbook, newspaper and broadcast at Astronaut High School in Titusville, Florida.
While Williams has been advising publications for the past 16 years, her contributions, service and reach in the scholastic journalism community has expanded beyond her Florida classroom.
In 2015, Williams created the “Journalism Teachers” Facebook group, which today boasts 2,070 members.
“While a Facebook group can be hit or miss, what Callie has created and continues to build in terms of community is phenomenal,” JEA Nevada State Director Matthew LaPorte said.
Since then, Williams has used the platform to engage with advisers all over the country.
“She always had another amazing lesson plan to share or fun yearbook distribution day ideas,” JEA Director-at-large Katie Merritt, MJE, said. “However, Callie didn’t just share these with me, her friend. She created the Journalism Teachers Facebook group, which is now over 2,000 members and always growing.
When COVID-19 caused advisers all over the country to rethink just about everything, Williams decided to use her Facebook platform to organize a virtual professional development curriculum for advisers seeking advice on distance learning for their students — and for themselves.
With more than 30 instructors delivering presentations to meet the needs of all publications, “the virtual sessions were exactly what teachers wanted and needed at this time and wouldn’t have been possible without her decision to make this a priority for herself and her [professional learning community],” LaPorte said. “Having 45 minutes to engage in a topic that is of interest with our peers and find ways to channel that into our Google Classrooms for our kids who desperately wanted something to do was important. And Callie made that happen.”
Founded in 1924, JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, promoting professionalism, encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It is headquartered at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.