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Above the fold: student journalists make headlines with big wins

Student staffers of the Northview High School news site, The Roar, usually travel to the campus of Michigan State University to attend the annual Michigan Interscholastic Press Association awards.

This year, because of the stay-at-home order aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, the event was held online. But The Roar adviser Betsy VerWys said the Division 3 announcements she watched with her students were special nonetheless. 

“I’m completely overwhelmed with pride right now,” wrote adviser Betsy VerWys in an email to Northview staff.

It was the first time The Roar staff earned first, second and third place honors, as well as honorable mentions. More than 4,300 entries were submitted to this year’s competition. News sites at East Grand Rapids and Forest Hills Central high schools also won several awards. 

The Big Win

Northview sophomore and co-editor Olivia Austin was honored with first place out of 13 submissions for “Homecoming game 2019 photo gallery.”  

“It didn’t really hit me in the moment because I was just shocked and overwhelmed,” Olivia recalled. “I worked super hard this year, and I would have been proud either way, but (the award) felt like my work started to pay off.”

Olivia’s an admitted accidental journalist; she was enrolled in a different elective the first semester of her freshman year that “wasn’t really my thing.” A classmate told her about journalism class, and “something just made me gravitate toward it.”

Her award, for the fall’s Homecoming football game and court announcements, was part of her goal to “troubleshoot new ways to display content,” she said. “Not everybody wants to sit down and read a 600-word story. I’m not the most experienced photographer out there, but  I’m definitely a design person. I feel like I thrive making the non-traditional story form.”

Click here to read The Roar article about the honors, and to get links to winning pieces. MIPA’s Spartan Awards are scheduled to be announced at 3 p.m. today.

Journalists in the Making

Three honorees were selected for each category, and entries in each division were judged by MIPA advisers, college faculty, and college and professional journalists. Kent ISD schools in the competition are in Division 3.

“This is such a young staff, and they work so hard for me every day,” wrote VerWys in a followup email to School News Network. “This class is an elective, so they choose to be here. And journalism doesn’t fit a ‘normal’ schedule. … They are staying after school, coming in early, working on their lunches. They put in way more hours than most people realize.  

“And frankly, they aren’t producing stories, following up on interviews and taking great pictures to win awards. They are doing that every day. They are working and practicing and developing themselves to tell better stories.  To capture the voice of the story they are covering. They are choosing issues that are real and hard, and necessary. Sometimes they hit roadblocks and have to turn around. Sometimes they work for a week and have to start over. 

“They try to be journalists full of integrity who tell the story in a way that is compelling and honest. And that takes work. Lots of it. These kids are not afraid to work hard.”

West Michigan Represents

Student journalists from districts in two other area public schools also earned MIPA honors this year.

The East Vision, student news site of East Grand Rapids High School, brought in three second place, three third place and five honorable mention awards.

The Forest Hills Central High student news site, The Central Trend, earned one first-place honor — Linus Kaechele for  review writing — and five honorable mentions in various categories.

Articles in the East Vision and The Central Trend about those awards are in the works, advisers said.


“The students I work with on The Central Trend have a passion for excellence in all aspects of their lives,” said adviser Kent George. “The best thing about this experience for them is that the grade is finally not the focus; instead, their dedication to writing and research is for a community-wide audience.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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