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Maya Smith of Lawrence High School earns 2024 Kansas Student Journalist of the Year


Maya Smith and her Lawrence High School classmates celebrate her being named the 2024 Kansas Student Journalist of the Year Feb. 21 at Lawrence High School.

The Kansas Scholastic Press Association congratulates Maya Smith on winning the statewide honor of the 2024 Kansas Student Journalist of the Year. Smith is the Editor-in-Chief of the Red and Black yearbook at Lawrence High School.

The overall winner is chosen among the winners of different enrollment classifications. Daniel Sullivan of Bishop Miege High School was named 3A/4A 2024 Student Journalist of the Year. Anna Castillo of Wabaunsee High School was named the 1A/2A 2024 Student Journalist of the Year.

Smith is the second overall winner from Lawrence High School in the last three years. 

A panel of judges chose Smith’s work as a premiere display of Kansas high school journalism. Smith’s portfolio was chosen from a collection of the top journalists in the state. The judges are high school publications advisers, university instructors and former scholastic press professionals.

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.

Maya Smith : 5A/6A Winner and Overall 2024 Student Journalist of the Year

The judges were impressed with Smith’s do-it-all mentality, being a crucial part of Lawrence’s news coverage while also heading the school’s yearbook.  Smith’s portfolio showed depth and quality from top to bottom. Judges were impressed with the impact of Smith’s coverage. They listed a flurry of highlights including Smith’s work to organize a school board candidate forum, coverage of school closures, reporting on pressing issues in her community and being a leader in all forms of scholastic media for her peers.


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

  • “This is an exceptional portfolio of experience, from start to finish. It’s gratifying to see such strong commitment to breaking news, especially from a yearbook editor.”
  • “A truly committed journalist who’s providing outstanding work to her school and her community in tangible, visible ways.”
  • “Some really strong images from such a balanced journalist. Maya doesn’t have a ton of weaknesses.”
  • Exceptional grasp of how design can showcase photo storytelling. Appreciate the elegant simplicity.”

Watch Maya present to the Kansas State Board of Education on her award:

Smith’s personal narrative described her journey through high school as she grew as a journalist and fell in love with the craft.

“Sophomore year me would never have predicted I am where I am today. I am grateful to say that journalism not only gave me a purpose, but a whole set of skills to make me ready for the world.” 

Juggling yearbook coverage was plenty to keep Smith busy, but that didn’t stop her from branching out and expanding her coverage. 

“I had to learn I could not do it all for other publications, but could still pour my heart and soul into my own. But still, I was left with this feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. This feeling ended up benefiting me in the long run by helping me branch out of my comfort zone. Rather than the expected — and often underappreciated — yearbook duties, I expanded my journalistic horizons to take on live social media reporting, consistently covering important school board meetings, learning more about local journalism and teaching driven staffers. Not only did I learn I can’t control everything, but I found new learning opportunities come when you least expect them.”

Barbara Tholen, Lawrence High School journalism adviser and KSPA board president, and Maya Smith, 2024 Kansas Journalist of the Year.

Smith’s adviser is Barbara Tholen, who said that Smith’s persistence and prowess helped keep her going:

“Sitting outside the pool tonight, Maya Smith lamented that she hadn’t been a better leader this year. I wanted to hug her and shake some sense into her all at once because, damn, if she hadn’t been such a good leader — heck, a phenomenal leader — I might just have ended this year with a long sigh and deep questions about if had the energy for one more spin on the roller coaster that is advising high school journalism. But this kid makes me eager for another go. I’m eager to come back because she’s the kind of student who will absolutely nail every aspect of journalism and then turn around and say, “Maybe I could have done that better.” And then she’ll find a way to do it better. And finish the job early.”

Tholen wrote about Smith’s ability to balance leadership roles in a wide variety of journalism areas:

“Maya somehow, incredibly, balanced it all. Maya did all of this without the deep support team she deserved. Our converged journalism staff of 65 relies on having editors in chief that share the responsibility and load. Let’s just say senioritis hit early and hard at Lawrence High. That meant that Maya was providing deep amounts of leadership for the entire staff.”

Lawrence USD 497 Superintendent Anthony Lewis said that he often turns to the work of Smith and her peers when he wants to read fair and quality news coverage of the school district and local community. 

“One could refer to Maya as ‘the total package’ in that she has all the characteristics one expects of an exemplary young person, including those of an outstanding student journalist.”

The board and staff of KSPA congratulate Smith on her award-winning application and portfolio.

Maya Smith, 2024 Kansas Student Journalist of the Year, and her parents Jerilyn Smith and Mike Smith.

We wish Smith the best luck in the upcoming competition for national student journalist of the year. Her work will now move on to compete against nominees from each state. The Journalism Education Association will recognize five portfolios, one winner and four runner-ups, at the National High School Journalism Convention in Kansas City on April 4-6. 











Daniel Sullivan: 3A/4A Student Journalist of the Year

Sullivan’s portfolio showed a passion and initiative to tell the stories of his community. Judges were impressed with his strong writing skills and broadcast presence.

Sullivan is the second winner in as many years for Bishop Miege in the 3A/4A category. 

Judges were thoroughly impressed with Sullivan starting a sports broadcast program at his school as a freshman and helping teach others.


The judges reviewed Logan’s application and noted its qualities:

  • “A talented writer broadcaster with particular emphasis on the broadcast. I’ve heard professionals with less poise while on air.”
  • “Exceptional sportswriting, with strong leads, sourcing and abundant direct quotes.”
  • “Established a broadcasting program as a freshman, teaching others to follow in his footsteps, holds leadership positions on paper video, broadcast programs.”
  • “His work rivals the top scholastic broadcast journalism. Exceptional leadership and development of broadcasts to serve both school and community.”

In his personal essay, Sullivan described his journey in student media, from an innovative freshman to confident senior. As sports editor, Sullivan said he works to use his platform to go beyond the box score: 

“I believe I have been successful in my mission. The vast majority of my work covers actions by athletes or coaches off the court, or the powerful emotions invoked in them by their work on the court. For the rest of my journalistic career, I will take the following angle to my work: sports are not special because of wins and losses. Sports are special because they bring people together and powerfully impact the audience and the participants. They will always mean something more than what happens on the field, and I’ve done my best to cover that angle this year. I believe it’s a fresh approach to the position not only at my school but in the state of Kansas.”

Sullivan’s adviser Sarah McCambridge spoke highly of the drive that Sullivan displays everyday:

“I have never taught a student who has sought out this many ways to tell stories while still in high school. As he heads off to college, he plans to continue pursuing his love of sports journalism, and I am confident he will thrive. Ultimately, I know this love of storytelling will be the key to his success.”

Sullivan has a wide range of sports media experiences, including working an internship with 810 Varsity Sports. At Bishop Miege, Sullivan has revitalized the advanced video production class, according to his teacher, Kathryn Berry:

“Daniel has an incredible work ethic. He has excellent grades and dedicates a significant amount of time outside of the classroom to newspaper, broadcasting, and video production. In the current world of education, it is easy for students to simply ‘buff up their resumes.’ This is not the case with Daniel. Daniel commits 100% to every task he takes on, and has a genuine passion for the craft of journalism.”

The board and staff of KSPA congratulates Sullivan as the 2024 3A/4A Kansas Student Journalist of the Year.

Anna Castillo: 1A/2A Student Journalist of the Year

Castillo’s portfolio showcased growth and leadership over her high school journalism career. Judges were impressed with her design skills and personal reflection.


The judges reviewed Logan’s application and noted its qualities, highlighting multiple examples of her strong work:

  • “This is how good students and journalists develop, by realizing where they aren’t strong and working to improve.”
  • “Appreciate both your leadership and your transparence on the fired-coach story.”
  • “High marks on the Barbie-themed graphic for Homecoming royalty. It sparkles. Strong map, too, on the cross-country course.”

In her personal essay, Castillo described the skills she learned in high school journalism that made her a better writer and communicator: 

“I am proud to say that journalism has made me a stronger and more confident person. It can be really scary to put your ideas into the world or publish something controversial. I have learned to be brave and strong because I know that people won’t always agree with you. I am excited to take the skills I have learned in journalism and use them in the world.”

USD 329 Wabaunsee Superintendent Troy Pitsch praised Castillo’s success in student media:

“Her editorial skills and unwavering commitment to journalistic excellence have elevated the student newspaper’s quality and expanded its influence. Under Sophia’s guidance, “The Charger” has become a powerhouse of information for secondary campuses, accurately reflecting the pulse of our student body. Beyond our school borders, Sophia’s strategic decisions have led to the publication’s continued inclusion in the county newspaper, reaching the entire community. Her articles inform and resonate with constituents, establishing Sophia as a respected voice in local journalism.”

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