Kibler receives Carl Towley Award, JEA’s highest honor

Kibler receives Carl Towley Award, JEA’s highest honor

By Erinn Harris, MJE, JEA awards chair

The Journalism Education Association has named Valerie Kibler, MJE, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, its 2021 Carl Towley Award recipient.

“In every sense of the word, Valerie Kibler is a champion of scholastic journalism students and advisers,” said Meghan Percival, MJE, McLean (Virginia) High School adviser.

Valerie Kibler, MJE, is the 2021 Carl Towley Award recipient.

Kibler is vice president of the Journalism Education Association. A journalism educator since 1988, her Harrisonburg (Virginia) High School news program has been consistently recognized with state and national honors, but her commitment to scholastic journalism extends far beyond the walls of Harrisonburg High School.

Kibler has a particular talent for seeing the potential in others; at that moment, the wheels start turning, and she quickly figures out how best to involve and include advisers — new and experienced — in the world of service to scholastic journalism. 

“It’s not that Val intimidates or demands — make no mistake. Her ability to organize, mobilize, manage, juggle and deliver makes everything look easy, and her positive energy and warm, welcoming nature make every group and project one journalism teachers want to be part of,” JEA President Sarah Nichols, MJE, said.

Kelly Furnas, MJE, JEA global engagement director, said the fact that Kibler rarely takes “no” for an answer is due to the fact that she always finds a way to say “yes” to good ideas.

“She might claim otherwise — noting the importance of work-life balance, learning from failure, delegation, blah blah blah — but the truth is few people sacrifice as much as Val does to make scholastic journalism better. She works countless hours, calls in all sorts of  favors, travels wherever she’s needed in order to make good ideas succeed,” Furnas said.

Whether it is an informal mentorship with a new adviser who wisely seeks her counsel, or the interest she takes in helping to encourage more experienced advisers to take on leadership roles, Kibler is a tireless advocate for journalism educators everywhere.

“At some point, those who have been in contact with Val are her students too,” Lori Keekley, MJE, St. Louis Park High School adviser, said. 

Valerie Kibler, MJE, works with student journalists during a visit to a Partner Project school in Florida.

One example of Kibler’s impact on students and advisers nationwide is her dedication to the JEA Partner Project, an initiative designed to help journalism teachers and their students develop sufficient skills necessary for producing student media and to connect them to the greater scholastic journalism community in a professional learning community with three veteran journalism teachers and their students.

“The goal is to empower the educator, student and principal to understand the importance of practicing real journalism,” Keekley said. “While in Mississippi at the original project, I would hear her say ‘Well, why not?’ or ‘Could you tell me why you think that?’ She doesn’t tell them what to think. She shows them what to think about.”

The namesake of this award, Carl Towley, spent his career working on behalf of journalism teachers, doing everything within his power to ensure that they were prepared to teach and advise student publications. Kibler’s service to JEA is the embodiment of Towley’s vision and goals.

“For most of us mortals, the decision-making calculus usually involves some admittedly selfish values — is this good for our career or our paycheck or our legacy? Val’s work on behalf of scholastic journalism has always eschewed such pursuits,” Furnas said. “She contributes because it’s the right thing to do.”

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.

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