The small but mighty journalism class at Montezuma-Cortez High School reaped the benefits of a year’s hard work after receiving 16 awards, including first place for best overall newspaper, at the Colorado Mesa University 25th Media Day awards ceremony.
It’s the first time in 12 years that the Panther Press has been given the honor of best high school newspaper, and it’s an accomplishment that faculty adviser Debra McVicker credits to her hard-working five-student staff.
The staff is working on its fourth and final issue of the year, a bittersweet moment for senior Matt Sanchez, who took over as editor-in-chief this year. Sanchez says he’s most proud of the newspaper’s use of graphics and design elements to tell stories. On the heels of the Panther Press’ big win, Sanchez is sad to say goodbye to the newsroom.
“It’s actually kind of depressing,” said Sanchez. “It’s like a big chapter of my life is coming to a close.”
Staff writer and cartoonist Elaine Le, also a senior, reluctantly joined the staff at the urging of McVicker.
Le won a first place award in cartooning this year.
“I used to draw and give them to Mrs. McVicker, and she recruited me to draw and then got me to write to help out. It’s a lot of work,” she said.
Over the years, the journalism elective has gotten overlooked by most students, McVicker says, which makes recruiting for a full staff difficult. In her five years on as newspaper adviser, she’s coached a staff of as many as 12 students, but this year only five signed on for the course.
When the school went to block scheduling, the number of elective credits students must take in order to graduate dropped from 14 to nine, making it tough for journalism — a class with a lot more extra-curricular responsibility — to compete with other lighter courses.
“We do struggle with recruiting. Most kids just don’t have room in their schedule or don’t want to do the extra work, writing, and meeting deadlines,” she said. “But we have fields trips and press days, and try to make it as much fun as possible.”
Junior and managing editor David Gonzales-Overton said the staff’s size was really emphasized at the recent Media Day.
“At one of the round tables, a lot of schools were saying ‘We have 24 students and only 5 computers,’ but we have the opposite problem,” he said, gesturing to the two full rows of empty student computer workstations.
Overton plans to stick with journalism next year and possibly in the future and hopes more students fill the places of Sanchez and Le as they go on to graduate this May.