A surprise classroom visit by principal Robert Aguilar brought excitement to media teacher Cathy Mebes’ morning “Talon” yearbook class at College Place High School on April 28. Mebes was named Washington state’s 2021 Journalism Adviser of the Year by the Washington Journalism Education Association (WJEA). The annual award goes to a teacher who exemplifies excellence in teaching and in upholding high standards of journalism.
An important aspect of this award is that nominations come from students. The letter nominating Mebes came from junior Veronica Sierra on the Talon staff, who said of her teacher: “She continues to go the extra mile every day for each and every one of her students in order to make us feel welcomed. In her class, she makes it clear that no idea will be frowned upon, and that everyone’s opinion matters.”
Joining principal Agular virtually via ZOOM were outgoing Journalism Adviser of the Year, Angelo Comeaux, broadcast instructor at Mountlake Terrace High School and WJEA executive director Kathy Schrier. Comeau, who headed the award selection committee, said that Mebes’ media program stood out because “hers is a program with consistently high standards and the students clearly respect and respond to that.”
Mebes spent years working as a communication professional prior to making the shift to teaching. Originally from Tennessee with a degree in mass communication, she gained experience in a range of positions, including news anchor, public relations spcialist and event manager. After a number of moves due to her husband’s military career, Mebes and husband, Mark, settled in Walla Walla, where she became part of the team to launch the Children’s Museum of Walla Walla. She was then hired to help with the opening of College Place High School. Of course, when a student media program began, she was the natural choice to take the lead.
“When I started at CPHS in 2014, I was asked to take the Strength Finders quiz and my strengths are Individualization, Empathy, Positivity and Arranger (in that order). Individualization is the act of seeking out the talents, skills and gifts in others and then reminding them of their potential. I am blessed to get to do this every day in Media and Yearbook Classes. I have the pleasure of reminding students of their potential, encouraging them to use their talents as they collaborate and work on projects,” Mebes said.
Five publications from around the state of Washington have earned recognition in the 2019-2020 WJEA Emerald Award competition.
The Nordic News, from Inglemoor High School, The Puma Press from University Prep and the Hawkeye from Mountlake Terrace High School all earned 90 percent superior ratings this year in Coverage, Writing, Design, Visuals and Leadership categories to earn the honor.
For yearbook, both Pantera from Mead High School in Spokane and Stillaguamish Trail from Arlington High School earned the 90 percent superior rankings to qualify for the Emerald Award in Theme development/structure, Coverage, Reporting, Photography and Design.
There were no website and broadcast winners.
Sandra Coyer is a high school journalism teacher, not a soothsayer. But she has her moments.
Four years ago, at the Puyallup High School Curriculum Fair, she was introduced to a freshman. The mother had previously told Coyer her daughter was interested in journalism and had, in sixth grade, demonstrated the courage/curiosity to interview KOMO-TV’s Steve Pool for a Black History Month project. Armed with that background information, Coyer shook the prospect’s hand and confidently pronounced: “You’re going to be the Washington State High School Journalist of the Year.”
Flash forward to March of 2018 at the Washington Journalism Education Association State Convention at Glacier Peak High School. Coyer, the soon-to-be outgoing WJEA president, was pulled aside by the WJEA executive director, and presented with a stack of awards to sign. The award on the top of the stack was the Journalist of the Year Award.
“I remember opening it, seeing Haley’s name on it, and then almost passing out from excitement,” Coyer says. “I had to steady myself on the table, tears in my eyes, before actually putting pen to paper.”
Yes, Haley Keizur, is the 2018 Washington Journalist of the Year.
Keizur remembers that orientation day, too.
“I remember (Coyer) saying: ‘I have great plans for you,’ ” Keizur says.
And what plans she had. Keizur wasted no time, joining the staff in sophomore journalism class and rising immediately to become Editor in Chief of the Cub Edition, which is the sophomore class’s first shot at doing print journalism. From there, as a junior, she rose to the position of Social Media Editor on the Viking Vanguard student newspaper. And, finally, as a senior, she was named Editor in Chief.
In addition to her leadership roles, Keizur’s time at the Viking Vanguard has included work in photography, news literacy, online, writing, and multi-media. Her favorite story was a focus/in-depth piece on the effects of social media on eating disorders. Rather than simply interviewing the school nurse, Keizur went the extra mile to find a source from a national eating disorder group, as well as to contact a University of Washington graduate student who was studying nutritional sciences and diet.
The story was submitted for a national Pacemaker Award (to be announced in September) and was included in the Viking Vanguard edition that was submitted for the Best of Show competition at the San Francisco national high school journalism convention in April. And while the edition did not win, Keizur is proud of her work.
“From a perspective of a journalist, it’s good to educate ourselves (about important issues),” she says. “It helps us grow as journalists. Those are the stories that people talk about. It’s cool that people you know are reading your stories. And you’re giving them more information.”
No single issue has captured the passion of Keizur more than her work to help pass Washington State’s New Voices legislation, a bill that guarantees full free-speech rights to scholastic journalists. She testified two consecutive years in Olympia and did behind-the-scenes work in contacting senators in an effort to educate them about the New Voices bill, signed into law this year by the governor.
“I grew more passionate about it over the years,” she says. Keizur noted that a story about oral sex that was published in a high school paper from nearby Emerald Ridge was concerning to her because of the district’s immediate reaction to sensor the school’s newspaper. “In the past they could sensor anything… and now they could not do that.”
Coyer is proud of Keizur’s accomplishments as a student journalist. But she says Keizur’s work on New Voices was extraordinary.
“Haley has always been passionate about student voice and telling important stories,” Coyer says. “She was a strong advocate… because of her belief in the power of journalism and the desire to have student journalists across the state experience the same level of responsibility.”
Keizur will begin Media Journalism classes this fall at the University of San Francisco. It’s a Jesuit school and she likes the school’s views on encouraging community involvement and supporting students’ Catholic faith. And she will continue her writing, but also has interests in computer science and technology.
Why journalism? She remembers that sixth-grade Black History Month project and scoring an interview with the KOMO-TV personality, who called her at home after her teacher helped set up the interview.
“I look back on things and think a lot about how I ended up being in journalism,” she says.
At least one journalism teacher is not surprised at all.