More than 60 students representing 13 Contra Costa County high school journalism programs won honors recently in the 2021 Lesher Awards competition, results of which were announced by the California Scholastic Journalism Initiative (CSJI).

CC Spin, a collaboration of CSJI, the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation, and the Contra Costa County Office of Education, organizes the competition.

The Lesher Awards recognize excellence in news reporting, feature, sports, opinion writing, photography, editorial cartoons, design, podcasts, and overall news publications. The competition is open to Contra Costa high schools as part of the CC Spin newspaper program and is judged by five professional Bay Area journalists.

This year’s ceremony was held May 20 via video conferencing because of pandemic guidelines.

“While we look forward to in-person events in the future, that we were able to bring students together remotely and have them recognized for their hard work was important,” said Steve O’Donoghue, CSII Director and a Lesher Awards judge. “They produced remarkable journalism in the face of incredible challenges, and their work deserves to be read, viewed, heard and celebrated.”

Devorah Levine, executive director of the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation, said, “High school journalism participants play an essential and powerful role, contributing their voice to helping our community thrive and engaging in civic dialogue. We are proud to continue supporting student journalism in Contra Costa County and congratulate this year’s Lesher Award honorees.”

Persevering through COVID-19

This year’s keynote speaker was Amanda S. Su, president of The Harvard Crimson. Su was a CC Spin student editor in 2018 for Dougherty Valley High School.

“It’s been a challenging year for student journalists,” Su told the Lesher Awards honorees. “I still remember that the best part of working for a high school newspaper was actually getting to be in-person with my friends and peers, collaborating on writing and editing stories, designing the layout of the pages, running around campus covering events and conducting interviews with students, teachers, and administrators.

“I’ve admired the incredible content all of you have been able to produce through such difficult circumstances and the important work you’ve done to keep your campus communities informed and updated on the latest COVID-19-related news during a period plagued by surely record-breaking uncertainty.”

The CC Spin program also grants three cash scholarships for Journalists of the Year. The scholarships are based on essays and the student’s body of work. Announced by Marcus Walton, chief communications officer for the Contra Costa County Office of Education, the recipients were: Macie Calvert, Monte Vista High School ($1,000), Christine Oh, California High School ($500), and Henry Hill, Miramonte High School ($250).

Three teachers were honored for their efforts in keeping journalism alive at their high schools by serving as advisers to journalism clubs. They were Karen Jenkins, Northgate High School, Giana Lillig, San Ramon Valley High School, and Rachel Decker, Dougherty Valley High School.

Group winners

The 2021 Lesher Awards consists of 14 categories, which includes 11 for individuals and three staff achievements.

This year the staff category of Overall Publication Excellence was divided between schools with a journalism class and those with a journalism club. This category recognizes a school’s entire range of journalism publications, whatever the platform (digital, print, audio).

First place for the Journalism Class division was a tie between Acalanes High School (The Blueprint) and Miramonte High School (The Mirador). California High School (The Californian) was second and Dougherty Valley High School (The Wildcat) third.

For the Journalism Club division, the winner was Northgate High School (The Sentinel). Clayton Valley Charter High School (The Talon) was second and San Ramon Valley High School (The Wolfprint) was third.

For Web Design, California took top honors. Acalanes was second, Miramonte was third, and Dougherty Valley received an honorable mention.

The Podcast category was judged by Devin Katayama, host of KQED’s news podcast “The Bay.” He selected Miramonte’s “Fast Fashion with Ryan Gottschalk” as number one. Second place went to Acalanes for “Zack Lara’s Good Ones!”; third place, California for “Beat With Us Dear Freshmen.” Dougherty Valley’s “Wildcat Tribune’s Rapid Review #14” received an honorable mention.

Individual awards

Among first-place individual winners, Investigative/Enterprise honored Jamie Lattin and Binti Sohn (Acalanes) for “Body Image: Piecing Together the Broken Reflection.”

In News, Isabelle Coburn (California) won for “Zoom Class Bombed.”

In Features, the winners were Angela Deanne Paloma and Ronnie Gogoi (California) for “Covid Choice.”

Mia Allyson (Northgate) won in Arts & Entertainment for “Madrigals and Belle Voce Sing Out in Countywide A Capella and Virtual Concert.”

First in Sports went to Aria Khalique and Riya Mehta (Dougherty Valley) for “Sexualized Female Athletic Uniforms Devalue Women’s Sports.”

Editorial was won by Isaac Oronksy (California) for “Priorities for SRVUSD School Board.”

“Reconsider the SRO Program” by Nick Harvey (California) took first place in Opinion.

The top Editorial Cartoon went to Reese Whipple (Campolindo High School) for “Classroom.”

Photo of the Year first place went to Meredith Edmonston (Clayton Valley Charter). Lue Van Handel (Acalanes) won first place in Photography Portfolio for “Lockdown.”

Special awards

Lesher Award judges awarded Karina Mascorro (Richmond High School) Special Recognition — Enterprising Student Journalist for her reporting for a CC Spin collaboration with EdSource. Edsource is a nonprofit organization providing education news and research on the California school system.

Six CC Spin student editors received “Outstanding Student Editors” recognition for 2021. They were: Allison Petek, Audrey Allen, and Alisha Nazar, all of Miramonte High School, Jason Shin, Clayton Valley Charter High School, Adelaide Berrett, Northgate High School, and Jamie Lattin, Acalanes High School.

Judges for the award program were O’Donoghue and CC Spin writing coaches Jim Finefrock, Bruce Koon, Carol Pogash and Dick Rogers. Casey Nichols is the CC Spin webmaster.

The mission of California Scholastic Journalism Initiative’s CC Spin program is to assist Contra Costa County high schools in training students to better understand and appreciate the role of a free press in our democratic system, the ethics and appropriate behaviors of journalists, and to protect and value the First Amendment in our society.

“Our goal is a student newspaper in every Contra Costa County high school that is a voice for student concerns and measures up to the highest journalistic standards,” O’Donoghue said.

Coverage of the virtual ceremony, a complete list of all winners and finalists, and Su’s keynote address are available on the CC Spin website.