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Konopelko from Pittsburg earns Kansas Student Journalist of the Year

The Kansas Scholastic Press Association congratulates Nicole-Marie Konopelko of Pittsburg High School on winning the statewide honor of the 2019 Kansas Student Journalist of the Year. Nicole is the editor-in-chief for the Booster Redux, the school’s newspaper and online news site.

The overall winner is chosen among the winners of three different enrollment classifications: 1A/2A, 3A/4A and 5A/6A. In the 1A/2A division, Grace Rowland of Sterling High School was named 3A/4A Student Journalist of the Year. There were no entries in the 3A/4A division.

KSPA executive director Eric Thomas called Konopelko this week with the news that she would soon be receiving a plaque and a scholarship check for $1,250 as the overall winner. As the 1A/2A winner, Rowland earns a scholarship for $750.

A panel of judges chose Konopelko’s work from among a collection of nine portfolios submitted by KSPA member schools. The judges are former high school publications advisers, university instructors and professional journalists.

KSPA thanks all of the student journalists from around the state who applied for this award. It takes dozens of hours to construct such a portfolio and gather the necessary materials. Simply applying for this award is a huge accomplishment.


Nicole-Marie Konopelko: Overall Winner and 5A/6A Student Journalist of the Year

Konopelko’s online portfolio shows a diversity of work, but especially depth and sophistication in writing. The writing portion shows an easy-to-navigate set of writings that include sports, features, news and opinions. Similarly, the multimedia page allows visitors to review work from four subcategories.

Nicole-Marie Konopelko, the 2019 Kansas Student Journalist of the Year, receives her plaque from KSPA executive director Eric Thomas March 6 at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

The judges reviewed Konopelko’s application and provided these compliments:

  • “She does a fantastic job of showing multiple skill sets, along with quality reporting. Nicole goes above and beyond the ‘here it is’ type of stories, and offers depth and value to the stories. The experience of looking into public records is extremely valuable and will be a great tool as she moves on in her journalistic career. “
  • “Nicole is a reporter and a storyteller. In all of her work, gathering the information and organizing is her greatest strength. She has a pretty broad range of media work.”
  • She has so much potential. She has a strong foundation and with more experience she will be a top-notch journalist and well rounded. Her greatest strength is that she feels the story.”

Konopelko’s essay tells the story of how a family car accident that killed her father spurred her toward telling the story of other people in her school and community.

“I used words as a way of coping with my grief. I wrote a fiction story about a girl who was also going through a parental death — the story I avidly tried to get published. I read book after book of young adult fiction for inspiration. I found beauty in words and writing.”

Her essay concludes with a commitment to being a journalist in college:

“I’m unsure of many things in my life, but I am sure of one thing — I was born to be a journalist. I’m majoring in journalism in college, where I can continue giving a voice to the voiceless, holding power accountable and sharing the passion for storytelling that I found at Pittsburg High. Regardless of where I end up, I will always remember how I got my start — in a small, Southeast Kansas community that inspired my dream.”

Nicole-Marie Konopelko works with a fellow staff member on the Booster Redux in the Pittsburg High School publications room.

Her adviser Emily Smith wrote in her letter of recommendation about Konopelko’s willingness to tackle tough and impactful stories, including one that resulted, in Smith’s opinion, in changes to the traffic and signs in front of her school:

“In the three short years I’ve had Nicole, she has written a multitude of meaningful stories. From students who are homeless, to a flawed lunch system, to a controversial math curriculum, Nicole’s ability to cover difficult or sensitive topics is impressive. […] She embodies every desired quality of Student Journalist of the Year. She truly is amazing. As you can see, I hold Nicole in the highest regard. After viewing her portfolio and credentials, I’m sure you will as well.”

Kristin Baker Bogner, a former Kansas high school adviser and instructor at the Flint Hills Publications Workshop, added her compliments to Nicole’s work.

“You see, Nicole stands out in a field of aspiring journalists because she fights, struggles and works to achieve the best journalistic result.  […] If Nicole sees newsworthiness value in a journalistic venture, watch out world. She is hard-working, tenacious, smart and delightful. Her efforts and leadership have contributed to a newsroom culture at Pittsburg High School that lends itself to function as a true media outlet, covering breaking news and serving as the ‘go-to’ source for information.”

The board and staff of KSPA congratulate Nicole-Marie Konopelko on her award-winning application and portfolio. We wish her the best luck in the upcoming competition for national student journalist of the year.

Konopelko also earned the prestigious Kaiser Scholarship, a full-ride to the University of Kansas’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications. She is pictured here with Eric Thomas, an instructor at KU as well as KSPA executive director, and Ann Brill, the dean of the school.

Grace Rowland: 1A/2A Student Journalist of the Year

Rowland’s work is showcased on a portfolio website that exhibits both work from her high school yearbook, especially photography and design. However, it also displays her work for the community newspaper, the Sterling Bulletin, including photos, designs of the sports page and writing about local events.

The judges reviewed Rowland’s application and noted its quality, including the work that she did during her internship for the Bulletin.

  • It’s so great seeing good, down-home community journalism. Clearly, the student got a lot of experience interning at local paper and probably learned a whole lot about her community.
  • Grace has taken advantage of opportunities available to her and has shown initiative in securing the internship. She appears to be a hard worker and anxious to improve. Love her attitude and passion.”
  • The internship at the professional newspaper is definitely a plus on your side.  Plus, you did actual things, rather than watched.”

Rowland’s essay also featured her time at the community newspaper:

“I got to meet and interview a lot of fascinating people that summer. I learned so many stories, and they will forever be imprinted on my heart. People that I already knew had much more to them than I could have imagined. I realized that there are people around me that have beautiful stories to tell, but I have to be the person to go out and get them so that I can share them with the world. Being a student journalist means I can inspire and cause people to feel emotions through stories I write. I am honored to be a part of that.”

Todd Vogts, her adviser at Sterling High School, offered these words of support in his recommendation letter of Rowland:

“She deftly differentiates between the right and wrong in the journalism world, which is always shrouded in shades of gray. She knows when to pounce on a hot story, and she knows when providing coverage would not benefit the magazine, yearbook or the subjects of the story. Grace is acutely aware of how democracy affords her the right to be a journalist. Her understanding of the First Amendment and the great power it affords everyone grows on a daily basis. In short, Grace is an excellent student and journalist. She has taken every journalism course offered here at Sterling, which has provided her with important skills, knowledge and room to put her talents to good use. She will go far in her future. “

Rene Wilson, the editor of the Sterling Bulletin, pointed to Rowland’s well rounded skills including reporting, designing, interviewing and photographing:

“Grace was a valuable addition to our staff as an intern at the Sterling Bulletin this past summer. She is extremely reliable and punctual, necessary traits in the news business. She was also bright, friendly and cheerful with our customers.”

The board and staff of KSPA congratulate Rowland as the 2019 1A/2A Kansas Student Journalist of the Year.

Please see our list of previous Kansas Student Journalist of the Year winners. And please let us know if you can help make the listing more complete.

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