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Rachel Chushuk, adviser at Blue Valley Southwest, named 2024 Engel Award Winner

From a press release provided by Kansas Collegiate Media:

Kansas Collegiate Media is honored to announce Rachel Chushuk, journalism teacher and publications adviser at Blue Valley Southwest High School, as the 2024 Jackie Engel Award winner for excellence in scholastic publications advising.

Chushuk, who has been advising high school publications in Kansas for 12 years, has built a culture of excellence in her programs. Her students consistently earn local, state and national honors for their work, with seven yearbooks during her tenure at Blue Valley Southwest being named “All-Kansas” publications.

“She is talented, knowledgeable and effective as a teacher who, year after year, inspires a passion for journalism in others,” wrote longtime colleague Michelle Huss, publications adviser at Blue Valley High School.

Chushuk has given freely of her time and expertise to help students and advisers beyond Blue Valley Southwest High School. From planning workshops for all the student editors in the Blue Valley School District to leading discussions with editors from across the state at Kansas Scholastic Press Association events, Chushuk goes above and beyond in her support of student journalists. She recently served on the local committee to help plan the Spring National High School Journalism Convention, attended by more than 2,500 students and teachers from across the country.

“Rachel has made significant contributions to scholastic journalism,” wrote Barry MacCallum, sales representative for Varsity Yearbooks. “Her dedication goes beyond the classroom, as she consistently goes the extra mile to support and guide students in their journalistic endeavors. Rachel has played a pivotal role in creating a culture of excellence, encouraging students to strive for the highest standards of journalistic integrity.”

High school publications advisers play a huge role in developing not only future journalists, but more broadly future citizens, and the members of Kansas Collegiate Media commend Chushuk for her commitment to free speech and open discussion. Mallory Huseman, the activities director at her school, wrote that Chushuk makes the free exchange of ideas a priority in her classroom.

“Through her guidance and support, Rachel has cultivated an environment where students feel encouraged to explore their interests and perspectives, resulting in publications that reflect the diverse voices and experiences of our school community,” Huseman wrote.

MacCallum said that Chushuk’s commitment to students’ First Amendment rights is unwavering.

“Her approach to teaching includes a comprehensive understanding and application of media law, empowering students with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the complexities of free expression,” MacCallum said. “She not only teaches the law but also fosters an environment that encourages student leadership and independent thinking.”

Every one of the people who sent nomination letters for Chushuk wrote about her ability to cultivate authentic relationships with students, leading to students who feel welcome and supported in her classroom and who want to put in the work to be their best.

Jim McCrossen, journalism teacher at Blue Valley Northwest, said that Chushuk creates an environment that sets the stage for success. Her rapport with her students, he said, helps them want to learn and excel, but also invites them to have fun.

“Watching Rachel with her students is a joy,” McCrossen said. “Her students call her Churbs, a mix of her maiden name and her married name, with genuine affection. They ask her questions, they listen to her intently and they are always learning from Rachel.”

Chushuk’s students echoed those sentiments.

Yearbook co-editor Sydney Hendricks said that Room 118 is often filled with laughter, including from Chushuk.

“She will laugh at herself, admit to her feelings or wrongs, and most of all teaches us the power in creating a book of hard work that will pay off,” Hendricks said. “She creates a space in her classroom for openness. She loves to play devil’s advocate which I am later grateful for.

“Mrs. Chushuk will be a teacher I will always look back on fondly and will cherish the frequent light-hearted banter and leadership qualities I have gained from being a student in her presence.”

Yearbook co-editor Ashley Weber said that while Chushuk is a wonderful teacher, deserving of all the accolades, she is also simply a wonderful person.

“She makes an effort to connect with students, always understanding their individual needs,” Weber said. “Chushuk’s mentorship has instilled in me skills such as communication, leadership and collaboration, truly making Room 118 feel like home.”

Kansas Collegiate Media will present the Jackie Engel Award at the KCM Spring Conference in April, and she will be recognized again by the Kansas Scholastic Press Association in May.

About Jackie Engel:
Jacquelynn “Jackie” Engel was a long-time journalism educator, serving as journalism teacher and publications adviser at McPherson High School from 1966-1987. She then served as executive secretary of KSPA, with headquarters at the University of Kansas, until 1989. During that time, she was instrumental in passage of the Kansas Student Publications Act in 1992.

Jackie taught hundreds of high school journalists through her publications, classes, workshops and conferences. She was a state director for the national Journalism Education Association, which honored her with its Lifetime Achievement Award. She earned the Gold Key from Columbia Scholastic Press Association and the Pioneer Award from the National Scholastic Press Association.

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