JEA celebrates 5 Medal of Merit winners

JEA celebrates 5 Medal of Merit winners

By Louisa Avery, MJE, JEA awards chair

Five individuals who have made significant contributions to scholastic journalism will be honored with the Medal of Merit this fall. They will be formally recognized during the Fall JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention.

The 2023 Medal of Merit recipients are: 

  • Priscilla Frost, Wentzville (Missouri) School District
  • Kathy Habiger, MJE, Mill Valley High School, Shawnee, Kansas
  • Erinn Harris, MJE, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia
  • Amy Morgan, Shawnee Mission West High School, Overland Park, Kansas
  • Jed Palmer, CJE, Ranch View Middle School, Highlands Ranch, Colorado
At the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention in San Francisco, Priscilla Frost, left, works helps to check in students during the Friday morning Quiz Bowl qualifying round. Much of the work Frost does is behind the scenes at conventions and has her performing many different roles. Right after the testing here started at 8 a.m. she headed to the orientation meetings for the broadcast contests to make sure those events were ready to begin. (photo by Bradley Wilson, MJE)

Priscilla Frost 

Priscilla Frost has worked in education for more than two decades, including 13 years as a teacher and adviser before transitioning into administration in 2012. Despite leaving the classroom, she has served as the JEA National Student Media Contests office manager at conventions since fall 2012. 

“It is difficult to put in words the contribution she has made to JEA in those years,” JEA National Contest Coordinator Nancy Smith, MJE, said. “Most notably, she made major upgrades to the systems that were in place for years, saving JEA major time and money.”

“Over the years, her reorganization has saved JEA thousands of dollars, as we no longer purchase supplies we do not need and we no longer ship dozens of heavy boxes across the country twice a year,” Smith said. “In addition, the contest committee has cut back one full day and night of attendance at the convention due to the reduced time needed to prep.”

Frost arrives the Wednesday before the convention to set up the contest office and prepare the contest material and registration items. She runs check-ins for the JEA National Quiz Bow preliminary round, helps at the NSMC check-in desk in the registration area, makes sure student volunteers check all contest rooms Friday to ensure they are set up correctly, checks in with each lead judge before each contest, sets up the judging dinner, supervises the judging dinner, ensures that award certificates, critiques and medals are arranged and ready for the JEA awards ceremony, prepares the mailing of items for those not in attendance at the awards ceremony, and then before leaving the convention city, completes inventory, packs up the office and prepares a list of supplies to be ordered for the next convention. Most importantly, Smith said, she takes care of the other contest committee members at each convention. 

“What is most impressive about Priscilla is as her career has taken her to different roles in schools and school districts, she has stayed connected to her journalism community,” Smith said. “Each time she has changed roles, she has informed her new supervisor about her responsibility with JEA, and her desire to continue serving the organization.”

Kathy Habiger, a teacher from Mill Valley High School in Shawnee, Kansas, teaches a workshop for advisers at the Jayhawk Media Workshop at the University of Kansas on June 14, 2023.

Kathy Habiger, MJE

Kathy Habiger, MJE, has been teaching and advising since 1996, including newspaper, yearbook and online news. Habiger is active in her state – Kansas Scholastic Press Association – and local – Journalism Educators of Metro Kansas City – organizations and in JEA and NSPA, including co-chairing the Kansas City national convention in 2010.

Additionally, Habiger has been on the KSPA board, since 2014 “currently serving as the most enthusiastic secretary you can imagine,” KSPA Executive Director Eric Thomas, MJE, said. 

“Kathy brings contagious energy to so many different projects in scholastic journalism,” Thomas said. “While president of the KSPA board, Kathy worked for the benefit of all KSPA students. Kathy loves to celebrate the achievements of others. So, when KSPA handed out its annual awards one year, she planned surprise recognition ceremonies at each recipient’s school in front of their fellow teachers.”

Habiger has also served as a long-time leader with the JEMKC through many board positions, including president, for multiple terms. 

“Her work with JEMKC keeps the Kansas City area a vibrant place for scholastic journalism,” Thomas said. “One major accomplishment was growing a scholarship fund in memory of her dear friend and adviser Mike Dunlap after his death.”

Tom Gayda, director of Student Media at North Central High School, has presented and co-taught sessions with Habiger numerous times. 

“Be it at the University of Kansas, Ball State University or any number of major cities that have been home to a national convention, Kathy and I have worked together, each time allowing me to see how she captivates the audience and engages with them in fun, educating ways,” Gayda said. “I often leave these sessions having learned just as much as the participants, because Kathy is always doing new things, like a real pioneer would.

“A Medal of Merit recipient myself, I would consider the honor to be even more prestigious with the addition of Kathy. She has few peers when it comes to the excitement she brings to everything she does. If I could tap into just an ounce of her energy, I would be an even stronger teacher in the classroom.”

Erinn Harris, MJE, guides her student journalists through a yearbook design critique. While Harris commits countless hours to helping her own student journalists learn, grow and achieve at the highest level, she also gives to many advisers and students in her role as Virginia’s state director for JEA and as the past JEA awards committee chair.

Erinn Harris, MJE 

Erinn Harris, MJE, has been teaching and advising since 2005. In those 18 years, Harris taught English and advised yearbook, news magazine, online news, broadcast and a podcast. 

Harris was named the 2020 CSPA Dow Jones National Journalism Teacher of the Year and was recognized as a Distinguished Yearbook Adviser in 2015, a Special Recognition Yearbook Adviser in 2013, and as a JEA Rising Star in 2010. 

Harris began giving back during her very first year of teaching when she presented a session at the fall national convention in Chicago. Since that first session, she has presented hundreds more across the nation, missing literally no fall or spring convention since, and contributing as many as four sessions at each, as well as judging and lead-judging contests for the National Student Media Contests.

Harris became the multimedia broadcast curriculum coordinator for JEA in 2017, working to create resources that would benefit advisers across the nation. In 2020, she was appointed to chair the awards committee, and her term ended this past spring.

“During her appointment, Erinn created heartfelt tributes to each honoree that facilitated a true celebration through the times we couldn’t be together,” Smoky Hill High School adviser Carrie Faust, MJE, said. “It was important to Erinn that she ensure our members would feel recognized for their achievements even when COVID-19 kept us apart.”

Since 2017, Harris has served as the Virginia state director for JEA and the treasurer of the Virginia Association of Journalism Teachers and Advisers. She has also served as the associate director, social media coordinator, jDay Write-off coordinator and organizer of the adviser jRetreat.

Harris has also served the Southern Interscholastic Press Association as a board member and the Columbia Scholastic Press Association as second vice president. Additionally, she earned her Master of Arts Degree in journalism education from Kent State University in 2020.

“Of all Erinn’s accomplishments, I am most proud of her continued efforts to get New Voices legislation passed in Virginia,” JEA President Val Kibler, MJE, said. “She has gone above and beyond to teach her students to be advocates for themselves. I feel confident she will just keep pushing until we see this legislation in Virginia.”

Amy Morgan assists a student with a design idea during her class at the Jayhawk Media Workshop in June 2022 at the University of Kansas.

Amy Morgan

Amy Morgan has worked for more than two decades as an award-winning teacher at Shawnee Mission West High School, teaching newsmagazine, website, yearbook, journalism and editorial leadership. During that time, her students have earned top awards from JEA, NSPA, KSPA and CSPA. 

Morgan received the NSPA Pioneer Award in 2019 and was recognized as a 

Special Recognition Yearbook Adviser in 2014. 

Morgan served on the board of the Journalism Educators of Metropolitan Kansas City from 2001 to 2011 and the Kansas Scholastic Press Association from 2006 to 2016 and continues to be involved with the organizations. 

“I am always grateful for the work that Amy does to keep our organization strong,” KSPA Executive Director Eric Thomas, MJE, said. “Her detailed work as secretary helped to welcome me as a new director, always keeping our meeting organized.”

“But more than anything else, Amy is a constant volunteer for the organization: presenting at conferences, volunteering for on-site critiques and participating with her students. KSPA is so much stronger thanks to her work.”

Morgan has taught at the Jayhawk Media Workshop, previously the Kansas Journalism Institute, each summer since 1997. 

“With a consecutive streak of teaching at the workshop dating back to 1997, Amy has shown commitment to teaching – even during the summer,” Thomas said. “She even kept the streak alive during the pandemic when we shifted the workshop to a virtual platform.”

Additionally, Morgan served as the co-chair for the 2010 national convention in Kansas City. 

“​​I think back to 2010 when I attended the fall convention in Kansas City as a junior,” adviser and JEMKC President Tucker Love said. “It was the only convention I attended as a student, and it was magnificent. I loved being able to experience that event.”

“Seven years later, when I was student teaching, I learned that Amy was the co-chair of that convention. She spent countless hours planning that convention with so many other great Kansas City advisers and JEA and NSPA members. Today, I am the chair of the 2024 spring convention in Kansas City and Amy has been right there for me, offering any help she can.”

Jed Palmer helps a student with their camera settings while teaching at the Rocky Mountain Journalism Workshop in the summer.

Jed Palmer, CJE

Jed Palmer, CJE, has advised middle school publications for 20 years, including yearbook, print newspaper, website, broadcast and literary magazine.

In a state now known for strong middle school yearbooks, in 2013 Palmer was the first middle school adviser to be named a Colorado Student Media Association Adviser of the Year. That same year, JEA recognized Palmer as a Distinguished Yearbook Adviser. Palmer stepped up in service to CSMA as their first board-level middle school coordinator in 2012-13 and also served on JEA’s national middle school commission, supporting advisers like himself nationwide.

“It’s a privilege and honor to teach with Jed in the National High School Journalism Convention pre-convention workshops twice a year, an annual boot camp-style, eight-hour course we affectionately call ‘Two Bald Guys with Cameras.’” Corning-Painted Post High School adviser Michael Simons said. “While we share teaching responsibilities, I’ve counted myself lucky since our first team-up about a decade ago, because every time Jed’s center stage in the workshop, I learn something, too.”

Palmer also judges the photojournalism categories for the National Student Media Contests and teaches at summer workshops. 

“In my time working with Jed for many years at the Yearbooks@theBeach summer workshop I have seen at first hand his overall journalistic prowess and devotion to improving student publications,” retired adviser Mitch Ziegler, CJE, said. “Last summer, in a classroom filled with 300 students and a faculty consisting of many of the most renowned yearbook advisers in the country, Jed delivered one of the best presentations about yearbook theme I have ever heard, and I do not think it is a coincidence that students created some of the best theme packets I have seen in my 20 years of working at yearbook workshops.

JEA Vice President Justin Daigle, MJE, worked with Jed as an instructor and mentor at the Herff Jones Rocky Mountain Spirit Summer Camp and Yearbooks at the Beach in California. 

“I loved how he would articulate his notes and criticisms to each staff while providing ample room for staffs to develop new ideas,” Daigle said. “He interacts with staffs easily and his wealth of knowledge has benefited so many staffs that have attended this camp, including my own.”

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