JEA announces its 2019 National High School Journalist of the Year

JEA announces its 2019 National High School Journalist of the Year

Standing in front of the school’s Path to Manhood Statue, Parker Davis of St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas prepares to take a photo looking out across the Perot Quadrangle. A four-year member of The ReMarker staff, Davis rose from staff writer to sports section editor before a promotion from executive page editor to managing editor at the beginning of his senior year. Photo by Kamal Mamdani

Over the past year, hundreds of high school journalists throughout the country worked hours to complete their portfolios for state Journalist of the Year contests, and the 36 state winners who entered the national competition were recognized April 25 at the opening ceremony of the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention in Anaheim. The national winner and six runners-up were recognized April 27 at the closing awards ceremony.

When the final results were announced, Parker Davis of St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas, Texas, was named the 2019 National High School Journalist of the Year. Davis will receive a $3,000 Sister Rita Jeanne Abicht Scholarship as part of his recognition from the Journalism Education Association.

Six other state winners were named national runners-up. Each will receive an $850 Sister Rita Jeanne Scholarship. They are as follows:

  • Nicole-Marie Konopelko, Pittsburg (Kansas) High School (Emily Smith, CJE, adviser).
  • Ashley Hitchings, Palo Alto (California) High School (Paul Kandell, adviser).
  • Avery Maslowsky, Conestoga High School, Berwyn, Pennsylvania (Susan Gregory, MJE, adviser).
  • Annika Prom, Mountlake Terrace (Washington) High School (Vincent DeMiero, adviser).
  • Nyah Phengsitthy, Harrisonburg (Virginia) High School (Valerie Kibler, MJE, adviser).
  • Mimi Geller, St. Paul (Minnesota) Academy and Summit School (Kathryn Campbell, CJE, adviser).

Named in honor of JEA’s longtime treasurer, the late Sister Rita Jeanne Abicht, FSPA, the scholarships recognize some of the top high school journalists in the country. Portfolios are judged in the month leading up to the JEA/NSPA spring national convention, and scholarships are given in honor of their work on scholastic media.

The national applications this year were submitted digitally. The competition attracted dozens of entries in some states and none in others. The 39 members of the scholarship committee were impressed with the depth of experience contained in the state-winning entries.

About the winner

Parker Davis has been a member of his high school newspaper, “The ReMarker” for all four years, most recently as managing editor. He mentors underclassmen on staff, assists in leading day-to-day operations of the publication, oversees production of all sections of the newspaper and writes either a cover story or main story for each issue.

Davis didn’t start the year as managing editor; and according to adviser Ray Westbrook, he was bitterly disappointed when two other students received the titles and he didn’t.

“But Parker didn’t fold,” Westbrook said. “In fact, he came back this fall determined to make his mark on the newspaper — and he has done just that. From our very first issue, it was apparent Parker was going to be a force to be reckoned with.“

As executive page editor, he was a quality control specialist, in charge of the six sections, working with the page editors, making sure content was solid. And while he took his job seriously, he didn’t stop there. Davis played a major role in the development of one of the most sensitive stories St. Mark’s had to develop in years, a cover story on a former teacher who had been named as one of six teachers accused of sexual misconduct while employed at another school.  The story centered around the hiring practices of the school and ways in which the school made sure employees were conducting themselves appropriately in their interactions with students.


“I am so impressed that The ReMarker, a newspaper at a boys school, took on writing about sexual assault both among teachers in private schools and in response to the Kavanaugh hearings,” said Rebekah Goode, judge and adviser of Woodward  Academy, College Park, Georgia. “From those stories to telling the stories of two classmates who lost their mothers to cancer, he finds a way to tell stories which might not otherwise be heard.”

Davis was soon promoted to managing editor after his work on that story in their first issue this year, and he continued to pursue his passion through sensitive topics that needed a voice to the ones that were the basic of news stories.

“I find that innate ability to identify a good story for our readers has been a hallmark of Parker’s journalistic career,” Westbrook said. “He told his stories with raw honesty and depth. In other words, Parker’s words connect with the reader.”

Davis wrote in his essay, “Every step of the process from news gathering to publication continues to bring out the best in me. In ninth grade, I quickly learned to approach every story as an opportunity to share a perspective on humankind through someone else’s eyes. Some perspectives are hopeful. Some are cynical. Some have made me question how I view the world. But through each interview, I’ve gained a new perspective, one I will value and consider long after the story has been sent to print. In the end, that’s the essence of journalism.”

Runners-up honored                                    

Nicole-Marie Konopelko of Kansas found a way to cope through words after the loss of her father. After a car accident took his life in 2012, she used writing as a way to grieve and process. This led her to a passion in storytelling, specifically to work for a community through journalism, as a way to give back after so many people helped nurture her and her mom after their great loss.

Editor-in-chief Nicole-Marie Konopelko (right) advises first-year staffer Ashlan Brooks on her article. Brooks’s article, which featured teachers who commute long distances to school, was published in the March 2019 issue of The Booster Redux. “When I first started the story, I was really unsure of what I was doing, but when Nicole started helping me and giving me advice, I felt more confident,” Brooks said. “I felt like I could follow the example she was setting for me.” Photo by Ross Laidler

“This candidate demonstrates a desire to understand others,” said judge Shari Adwers, MJE and adviser at Loudoun Valley High School, Purcellville, Virginia. “This shows in her leadership abilities, where her passion for inclusion and diversity shine. It’s evident in her focus on increasing readership of her online news site. And in her reflection, she emphasizes her passion for telling others’ stories. Empathy is woven throughout all she does.”

Konopelko focuses on giving voice to the voiceless and evoking change. Her most notable investigative piece she wrote concerned a dangerous intersection and a stretch of road directly in front of her school. A student was struck in 2017 while crossing the street in the crosswalk. Her adviser, Emily Smith, CJE, wrote in the weeks after that incident, Konopelko spoke with department of transportation officials, conducted an open records request, interviewed county sheriff officers, the superintendent and students to write a story about this safety concern. A year later, the city and district implemented the changes of a four-way stop sign, a lowered speed and school speed zone and a rerouted bus system.

“In five years as a judge for JOY, this is the strongest entry I have had the pleasure of judging,” said judge Mitch Ziegler, CJE and adviser at Redondo Union High School, Redondo Beach, California. “She does it all, and she has the savvy to package herself well. Nicole-Marie’s stories are incredibly well researched and written, and she clearly possess a great sense of empathy. Best of all, she has made a difference.”

Ashley Hitchings of California sought change through her stories and through her leadership within her staff.

Gesturing to the latest issue of Verde magazine, senior Ashley Hitchings promotes her publication at an open house for middle school students and their families. Between volunteering at journalism showcases and organizing regional conventions, Hitchings finds gratification in cultivating the next generation of spirited student journalists. Photo by Nisha McNealis

“As a reporter, Ashley has been a vigorous pursuer of truth and crafter of important stories,” said Paul Kandell, adviser of Palo Alto (California) High School. “As a co­-editor-­in-­chief, she has been an electric  presence in my classroom, modeling journalistic vigor; positivity and purpose in motivating her staff; resilience and creativity in the face of obstacles; and commitment to a powerful editorial voice and strong ethical standards.”

Hitchings used depth in her reflection and showed the judges how her role on a student media staff has shaped her.

“Journalism has turned Ashley into who she is today: a reporter who looks critically at the world, aims to tell the truth, and tries to educate those around her both in the publishing of her stories but also in the newsroom as she guides those around her to become better reporters themselves,” said judge Kari Koshiol, adviser at Benilde-St Margaret’s School, St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Avery Maslowsky of Pennsylvania does not back down from difficult-to-cover topics. After covering a story about federal and state food regulations that affect the school’s cafeteria, Maslowsky included documented health violations that led to an uncomfortable conversation with the cafeteria management. But this reporter insisted her audience had a right to know why the lunchroom was undergoing so many changes including staff management.

Standing on the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum with the Philadelphia 2018 Women’s March proceeding behind her, Avery Maslowsky records a stand-up for her coverage of the event. Photo by Neil Goldenthal

“While she didn’t unearth scandal or effect any changes, Avery did learn that journalism can be uncomfortable,” said Susan Gregory, MJE and newspaper co-adviser at Conestoga High School, Berwyn, Pennsylvania. “And I’ve been proud to watch, over the last few years, how Avery handles discomfort. She is a go-getter, exhibiting stamina in pursuing and reporting stories and consistently meeting deadlines.”

Maslowsky also is one of the student leaders for the New Voices campaign in Pennsylvania. According to newspaper co-adviser Cynthia Crothers-Hyatt, CJE, she met with Sen. Andy Dinniman in late January to pitch the bill and gain his support. She also has contributed to the website and the social media campaign.

“Talk about confident, collected and absolutely comfortable when it comes to journalism and her experiences,” said judge Patrick Johnson, MJE and adviser at Antioch (Illinois) High School. “Avery’s portfolio as a whole is an exceptional example of reflective practice and a strong representation of a journalist with both ample experiences across platforms and a willingness to take risks.”

Annika Prom of Washington feels journalism gives voice to her heritage. And in the process of finding her passion through student media, she learned the importance of telling stories that need to be heard.

Annika Prom delivers her first pitch for a feature story with KUOW’s RadioActive Summer Workshop. Photo courtesy of RadioActive staff

“At one point, Annika was pushed by her editor to change language in her piece to cater to an audience at the cost of authentically representing the Khmer community,” said Kamna Shastri, mentor at RadioActive Youth Media. “Annika gracefully presented her argument to use the word ‘Khmer’ rather than ‘Cambodian’ throughout the piece, explaining that she wanted to refer to the community in their own words in order to tell an authentic story. This was the first time I had seen such initiative from a student to stand up for their work.”

Prom wrote in her essay about a personality profile she was assigned, where she initially had reservations. But instead of giving up on the story, she kept at it.

“I scoured my notes and found out his favorite teacher retired,” Prom writes in her essay. “By grabbing contacts through the grapevine, I called the physics expert and invited him back to our school. When Mr. Comeau  entered the room, Tyler broke into tears. That is the real Tyler Grabarczyk. The following interview gave me the information and personality I needed to show, not tell, Tyler’s real story of loving his mom, being a science nerd and loving the flowers he receives after a drama performance. Four years later, the photo I took of the two are still pinned on his Twitter page.”

Nyah Phengsitthy of Virginia has a natural ability to lead others. Adviser Valerie Kibler, MJE, admits to encouraging her to become a teacher because she feel she thrives in the journalism classroom.

Co-editor-in-chief Nyah Phengsitthy works with the freshmen on staff after a newspaper distribution day. Phengsitthy goes over different design elements on one of the pages. Photo by Ilana Mattson

“I don’t know that everyone will understand the reference, but to me she is like Radar on the old sit-com ‘M*A*S*H,’” Kibler said. “If I’m thinking something, she has already thought it. If I want something, she’s already taken care of it. In fact, I sat in my classroom just the other day wondering who was more of the teacher, me or Nyah. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s her. And that makes me so happy. She is already a teacher because she leads others by her example.”

Phengsitthy does not shy away from hard-hitting topics for her school’s newspaper, like child pornography and interviewing a Virginia Tech shooting survivor. She uses discernment with each story, deciding with purpose what should be published. In her own words, “It is not what journalism has done for me, it is what journalism has done to me.”

She continues in her self-analytical essay: “Journalism gives the world not only what it wants to hear, but needs to hear. Journalism changes lives, and that’s why I continue to fall in love with it day after day.”

Mimi Geller of Minnesota is a lifelong learner who is intrinsically motivated to find a compelling story in all aspects of the school.

Mimi Geller speaks with a peer about page design for St. Paul Academy and Summit School’s feature magazine, Aureus. Photo by Scott Streble

“Mimi’s hard work and attention to detail made her stand out even at this competitive college prep school, but what really sets her apart is her curiosity and search for the truth, at least in part thanks to her prodigious journalistic drive,” Geller’s U.S. history teacher Mollie Ward said. “In an environment where I find young people reluctant to take risks, Mimi was often the lone student willing to venture an answer for a particularly difficult question. She is also the one bringing those questions to the class each day.”

Her college counselor said after she graduates this year, her absence will be felt in the school. A judge called her a breath of fresh air. Geller and her supporters made an impression on the panel.

“She is fiercely passionate about what she does, and it shows,” said judge Alicia Merrifield, CJE and adviser at The Village School, Houston, Texas. “Her online portfolio was the strongest, most in-depth one I have read in my years of JOY judging. I truly believe, with Mimi in charge, the future of journalism will be a better place with her in it.”  

State winners

The full list of state winners entered in the national competition is as follows:

ALABAMA: Jacob Whitlock, Sparkman High School, Harvest (Erin Coggins, MJE, adviser)

ARIZONA: Julianna Head, Red Mountain High School, Mesa (Amanda Cline, adviser)

ARKANSAS: Kacie Wyrick, Sheridan High School, Sheridan (Justin Turner, adviser)

CALIFORNIA: Ashley Hitchings, Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto (Paul Kandell, adviser)

COLORADO: Taylore Todd, Castle View High School, Castle Rock (Jessica Hunziker, MJE, adviser)

DELAWARE: Stella White, Padua Academy, Wilmington (Dennis Leizear, CJE, adviser)

FLORIDA: Emily Fussell, Boone High School, Orlando (Bridgette Norris, adviser)

GEORGIA: Alyssa Freyman, South Forsyth High School, Cumming (Clori Rose-Geiger, adviser)

ILLINOIS: Ayse Eldes, Prospect High School, Mount Prospect (Jason Block, CJE, adviser)

INDIANA: Madelyn Knight, Southport High School, Indianapolis (Mike Klopfenstein, adviser)

IOWA: Andrew Maresca, Johnston High School, Johnston (Leslie Shipp, MJE, adviser)

KANSAS: Nicole-Marie Konopelko, Pittsburg High School, Pittsburg (Emily Smith, CJE, adviser)

KENTUCKY: Piper Hansen, duPont Manual High School, Louisville (James Miller, CJE, adviser)

LOUISIANA: Gabriella Killett, St. Martin’s Episcopal School, Metairie (Sophia Masone, adviser)

MASSACHUSETTS: Nathan Zhao, Wayland High School, Wayland (Mary Barber and Brian Keaney, advisers)

MICHIGAN: Audrey Whitaker, Grosse Pointe South High School, Grosse Pointe Farms (Kaitlin Edgerton, CJE, adviser)

MINNESOTA: Mimi Geller, St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul (Kathryn Campbell, CJE, adviser)

MISSISSIPPI: Garret Grove, St. Joseph Catholic School, Madison (Terry Cassreino, CJE, adviser)

MISSOURI: Abigail White, Lee’s Summit West High School, Lee’s Summit (Carol Ullery, CJE, adviser)

MONTANA: Ahna Fox, Bigfork High School, Bigfork (Charles Appleby, adviser)

NEBRASKA: Madelyn S. Augustine, Millard West High School, Omaha (Mark Hilburn, MJE, adviser)

NEW JERSEY: Andrew Rowan, Moorestown Friends School, Moorestown (Diana Day, adviser)

NORTH CAROLINA: Ashleigh Fields, East Mecklenburg High School, Charlotte (Bill Allen, CJE, adviser)

NORTH DAKOTA: Carly Bahr, West Fargo Sheyenne High School, West Fargo (Steph Cwikla, adviser)

OHIO: Jacob Fulton, Olentangy Orange High School, Lewis Center (Kari Phillips, adviser)

OREGON: Sagarika Ramachandran, Lincoln High School, Portland (Mary Rechner, adviser)

PENNSYLVANIA: Avery Maslowsky, Conestoga High School, Berwyn (Susan Gregory, MJE, adviser)

RHODE ISLAND: Adam Zangari, Lincoln High School, Lincoln (Doreen Picozzi, MJE, adviser)

SOUTH CAROLINA: Greyson Webb, Wando High School, Mount Pleasant (Phillip Caston, adviser)

TENNESSEE: Aaron Moser, Arlington High School, Arlington (Jessica Roberts, adviser)

TEXAS: Parker Davis, St. Mark’s School of Texas, Dallas (Ray Westbrook, adviser)

VERMONT: Halle Newman, Burlington High School, Burlington (Beth Fialko-Casey, adviser)

VIRGINIA: Nyah Phengsitthy, Harrisonburg High School, Harrisonburg (Valerie Kibler, MJE, adviser)

WASHINGTON: Annika Prom, Mountlake Terrace High School, Mountlake Terrace (Vincent DeMiero, adviser)

WISCONSIN: Mary Ellen Ritter, Brookfield Central High School, Brookfield (Thomas Juran, adviser)

WYOMING: Cheyenne Hume, Cody High School, Cody (Erika Quick, CJE, adviser)

The Journalism Education is a national organization of scholastic journalism teachers and school media advisers. Its headquarters is at the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas. For more information about the JEA or its National High School Journalist of the Year program, please go to or call 785-532-5532.

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