Student writer reviews accomplishments from 2020-21 year

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Neena Sidhu

Writing her “Writer of the Year” entry for the NSPA contest, rising senior Gabriella Winans sits at her desk. This will be Winans third year writing for the newspaper. “I’ve talked to people states away, and it’s allowed me to grow in ways I never expected,” Winans said. “I believe that just listening to people share their stories can allow you a glimpse into their lives, a walk in their shoes — even if it’s a short one.”

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Behind the articles

I’ve always been a people person. I enjoy being around others and hearing people tell their stories: the good times, the hard times, everything in between. Though it wasn’t until I took my writing seriously during my sophomore year that I realized I could put this passion and excitement I had for others into words, by talking to them, listening and then sharing their stories.

When my newspaper adviser, Lisa Roskens, my journalism teacher at the time, approached me my freshman year with the idea in mind that I should work for the school’s newspaper, I wanted to decline. I had seen the way journalists were presented in the national media, and I didn’t want to be involved.

However, I quickly began to believe that it was, and still is, my job to bring light to the truth and the story behind the articles we see every day. So, I started interviewing people. I wanted everyone’s perspective, everyone’s story, everyone’s “why” behind what they do. Approaching people in that way and listening to what they have to say has allowed me to connect with people I never knew I could. I’ve talked to people states away, and it’s allowed me to grow in ways I never expected. I believe that just listening to people share their stories can allow you a glimpse into their lives, a walk in their shoes –  even if it’s a short one.

Perceiving my audience and those who I interview for any story – whether it be a feature, news, entertainment or sports article – has allowed me to contribute a more personal perspective to my school’s newspaper. Telling people’s stories and outlooks on life, especially this past year, has allowed me to learn lessons, including one I carry with me every day: humility. Be humble, be kind and don’t judge others before you know them and their story. You never know what someone is going through or has already been through. By writing articles and getting quotes from a variety of people, I’ve been able to see a side of people I never thought I could, and that’s made me realize that sharing people’s stories is what I can contribute to the world and to this newspaper. I think that just listening to others allows you to grow closer to people, and I’m doing and contributing my articles to what I think is important in journalism: just taking those listening and truthful moments and putting them into words, to share information and to tell others’ stories. Because, after all, everyone has a story.

A closer look

1. ‘Black Panther’ star’s passing affects fans, leaves parents with dilemma

Following the passing of Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther, 4-year-old Drake Freeney plays with a Black Panther action figure. Ashlee Freeney, Drake Freeney’s mother, said that having her son identify with a superhero that he sees as similar to him has been huge. “It’s been pivotal for him to have a superhero to look up to that looks like him,” Freeney said. “He loves how Black Panther is always helping people. It makes him want to do the same.” (Gabriella Winans)

After learning of the passing of Chadwick Boseman in August of 2020, I was really inspired to write this feature article. I interviewed families and parents of children who looked up to Boseman as the “Black Panther” superhero character to get their reactions to his death and to learn whether or not they would be telling their children that he had passed. This article got a Best of SNO award, and I think it was important for me to cover this event, especially in this angle because we can see older fans’ reactions everywhere online, but we usually don’t see children’s. The little boy in the picture is a boy that I babysit, Drake Freeney, who was 4 at the time and looked up to Boseman’s “Black Panther” character as a hero, and his parents looked to the actor as a representation for people of his skin color in the Marvel superhero world. Listening to their opinions and telling their outlooks in return gave me perspective. For those reasons, Boseman’s passing needed to be covered and addressed, especially when it comes to parents of young fans making the decision of how to communicate bad news with children. Originally Published: September 10, 2020

2. Student shares train hobby with others after generations inspire him

Sophomore Connor Striegel’s great-grandfather (left), a former railroad employee, shakes hands with a friend in this photo, which sits in Striegel’s house. Striegel said he has a love for trains that first originated with his family’s relationships to them. “My great-grandpa used to drive trains,” Striegel said. “He started in 1945, and worked all the way up until 1976.” (Photo Courtesy of Connor Striegel)

I wrote this article after learning of a student who had a hobby unlike any other I had heard before, and it was when I sat down with the student, Connor Striegel, who had been a sophomore at the time, that I realized how special and how much of an honor telling his story was going to be to me. This article also got a Best of SNO award, but I really just enjoyed writing and speaking with Striegel and his family and friends. Hearing Striegel’s family’s legacy, his past that birthed this interest in trains, how both his great-grandfather and grandfather worked for the railroad, all of these conversation subjects inspired me because they involved a hobby I hadn’t commonly heard about. Writing this article allowed me to put a light on a student whose hobby hadn’t been shared with many other people, and I’m grateful that I was allowed to tell his story. Originally Published: November 12, 2020

3. California wildfires rage on, cause families to prepare for evacuation

Smoke covers the California sky, as the “El Paso” wildfire burns through a forest. Sareena Sandhu, who took this picture, said that she’s gone “fire chasing” to look at the damage of the wildfire. “We could see the fire from across the bay,” Sandhu said. “We could actually see the flames in the distance.” (Sareena Sandhu)

After hearing of the massive “El Paso” wildfire spreading across California on the news in September of 2020, I knew I immediately wanted to cover the issue. I live in Texas, so I got contacts through people I knew, and was able to talk to some of my friends’ family members, and some of my friends’ friends who live in California and were affected by the wildfire. This article got another Best of SNO award, which I was happy about because the word and these people’s stories were spreading, and this article gave awareness to others of what was going on in the people’s lives who were dealing with the wildfire. I interviewed many different people, all through phone calls, because I was so interested in hearing the more personal stories of what was going on behind the scenes. I was told stories, stories from these people of past wildfires, evacuation stories, looting stories, and put them into a news article so that I could also share information on the wildfire and better inform those around me, who are states away from California, about the situation going on there. This all the more made me want to publish this article because I knew I wanted to share these people’s perspectives on the situation, especially since they were so close to this natural disaster. Originally Published: September 23, 2020

4. Football’s Flight Crew allows for role models, encouragement for children

Holding up a sign for his Flight Crew buddy, second grader Eli Mahan supports varsity senior football player Jackson Berry at a home football game. Government teacher Irish Mahan, Eli Mahan’s mom, said that her son always makes sure to wear his Berry #5 T-shirt when he goes to games. “My son loves being a part of this program,” Mahan said. “Jackson (Berry) has written to Eli every single week of his football season, offering encouragement and advice.” (Photo Courtesy of Irish Mahan)

As football playoffs were in full swing in December, I wanted to write an article on the sport, but with a different angle. My school has a Flight Crew program, where football players mentor elementary school children. For this article, I did the writing while corresponding with a photographer on my team who took the pictures for it, My newspaper teammate Neena Sidhu, who was a sophomore at the time, added visuals to this article to help it be produced. It also received Best of SNO recognition. I got interviews with parents of children being mentored and football players for this article. Those conversations allowed me to cover the in-depth relationships between players and the children they were mentoring. I loved writing this article because I was able to get the story behind these relationships and show how much these children truly looked up to their Flight Crew buddies. Telling the parents’ stories of how much their children are being inspired while also getting to tell the football players’ point of view made this feature article heartwarming to write. Originally Published: December 15, 2020

5. Hurricane Laura impacts families, makes landfall as Category 4

As Hurricane Laura strikes southern Louisiana and Texas, a student watches the hurricane’s path. Teachers, students and community members here took action to help loved ones and to protect property. Hurricane Laura was updated Wednesday afternoon to a Category 4 storm. Once making landfall, the storm brought winds of up to 150 mph. (Gabriella Winans)

Living in Texas, I often hear of hurricanes and tropical storms hitting the coast and the damage that they bring. When Hurricane Laura struck in August, though, I wanted to take that opportunity to share the perspectives of people dealing with the hurricane and its effects. This article, too, got a Best of SNO award, which allowed even more people who haven’t experienced a hurricane to get a glimpse into what dealing with one is like from a firsthand point of view. I got interviews from teachers and friends who have family on the coast of Louisiana and Texas, along with contacting their family members, and it was fascinating to hear how everyone was dealing with the hurricane, and, since I’ve never been in a hurricane’s path before, I was able to see how communities come together to help one another during such a trying time. Writing this news article over a natural disaster allowed me to give information about the hurricane as well as share multiple people’s reactions and diverse perspectives on what dealing with a hurricane that’s heading straight for you is like. Originally Published: August 28, 2020