The Winter Springs High newspaper team is tops in the nation!
Hear ye, hear ye! The Winter Springs High School newspaper staff recently earned very high marks from the National Scholastic Press Association. Last school year’s all-girl editorial staff won first place in a national competition for the print edition of the campus newspaper, The Bear Truth.
Winter Springs High was one of only 18 schools in the country to receive this recognition and is the only high school in Florida to win the prestigious award.
The Bear Truth was established in 1997, led by adviser Dr. Paula Vickers. At its height, the school’s journalism program encompassed three journalism classes and nearly 100 students, but the program had dwindled in recent years.
After a hiatus, Dr. Vickers reemerged as the adviser last year and saw an opportunity to put the journalism program back on the map. She encouraged students to join the newspaper staff, which at the time only had one returning pupil. She says she got lucky when eight more students opted to take the journalism class.
“It was an array of kids, and it was very cool to watch them meet each other and bond,” Dr. Vickers says. “They all had a passion for it. I really lucked out on having some extremely nice kids who wanted to work hard.”
Dr. Vickers embraced the students who were willing to learn. And while she taught the basics of writing, shared interviewing tips, and did some copyediting, the hard work fell to the students. Riley Hazel, the editor-in-chief of last year’s winning team, assigned all the articles and decided where each story would appear in the paper.
“It has to be run by the kids,” says Dr. Vickers.
Riley had a year of experience on the newspaper staff before becoming last year’s editor-in-chief.
“When I received news that Dr. Vickers would be joining us and wanted to run a physical publication, I knew I was in the right place,” Riley says. “After writing my third article, I was hooked. It ended up turning into my favorite class, and now I plan on pursuing journalism as a career.”
The staff of nine girls worked during class and stayed after school to learn layout and design from scratch utilizing Adobe’s InDesign software, says Dr. Vickers. “They learned very quickly.”
The goal was to publish four-to-six issues during the school year as well as update content on the publication’s website, BearTruthNews.com. Students met every other week for a few hours after school, ordering a pizza and getting down to work. If they were facing a deadline, the crew met several days in a row. Dr. Vickers worked closely with Catherine Perez, Winter Springs High’s yearbook adviser, who assisted with layout and design.
The crew led fundraisers to finance the printing of the newspaper, which included selling ads and chocolate bars. They also sold water and beverages at the school’s homecoming parade and other spirit events. Olivia Song, a junior this year, served as business manager.
“I dealt with the money and any fundraising we did,” she says. “I coordinated many of those events and made sure everything was in line.”
Head photographer Sofia Guerra Martinez also served as staff translator. For each edition, the staff chose certain articles to be printed in Spanish as well as English. Sofia translated, and Dr. Vickers collaborated with the school’s Spanish teachers for proofreading.
“For the first time in history, we had articles published in both languages,” Dr. Vickers says with pride. “We tried to appeal to diverse populations – we’re always looking for new ways to give the readers what they need.”
Dr. Vickers suggested to her young staff that they take their best paper and send it to the National Scholastic Press Association.
“Even if we didn’t place, it would be a good learning experience, and we would get a lot of feedback,” she recalls.
The staff was judged on the design and layout of the newspaper itself, plus specific articles. They submitted an editorial, a play-by-play sports article, a news article, and a feature article to be critiqued.
Delays due to COVID-19 meant that the 2019-2020 staff had to wait until the current school year to hear the results. In early September, they learned that The Bear Truth staff received first place for schools with a population of 1,701 to 2,500 students.
“This was very exciting,” says Dr. Vickers. “It was a validation of all of their hard work and all the time that they put into producing the best paper possible.”
Junior Sara-James “S.J.” Ranta, who served as layout and design editor, was thrilled with the announcement.
“It is absolutely exhilarating; I can’t even describe it in words, and I’m a journalist!” she laughs. “It just warms my heart because we slowly grew into a big family.”
S.J. is proud of what she calls a girl effort. She’s serving as editor-in-chief of the newspaper this school year.
Sophomore Emily Tran, the feature editor on last year’s winning team, was speechless when she learned about the award.
“I didn’t realize that our paper could make such an impact,” Emily says. “I was shocked.”
She is now considering a major in journalism.
The winning editor-in-chief, Riley, graduated last spring and is now studying communications with a minor in journalism at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. There, she writes for the college’s paper, the Eagle News. When she learned about The Bear Truth award, she says, “I was overcome by joy and a sense of pride for everyone on staff. We were all relatively new to reporting and had no expectations of receiving recognition. I’d say it was a shock to all of us. I would not be where I’m at without Dr. Vickers’s help and the people who were on staff last year. I am so excited to see what they do this year with all the new reporters.”
With S.J. now at the helm, The Bear Truth is in good hands.
“I’m proud of the paper and all that we’ve done,” says S.J. “With a team of 23 kids, I’m fully willing to bring it into its next golden age.”
The Award-Winning 2019-2020 staff of The Bear Truth:
Layout and Design Editor
Public Relations Manager
Sofia Guerra Martinez
Dr. Paula Vickers
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