Coppell Student Media awarded NSPA Pacemaker for the first time in its history

“Pulitzer prize of high school journalism” awarded to staff at 2017 Seattle convention

Members of The Sidekick who traveled to Seattle for the 2017 JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention celebrate their NSPA Online Pacemaker, the highest honor in high school journalism. This is the first time in its history The Sidekick has ever won a Pacemaker. Photo by Round-Up Yearbook adviser Sallyanne Harris.

SEATTLE – After months of intense toiling inside and outside of the classroom, the staff of The Sidekick and was awarded a 2017 National Scholastic Press Association Online Pacemaker award last night at the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention.

The award, which was a long-time dream to many staff members, marks the first Pacemaker in Sidekick history. After working towards what is described as “the Pulitzer prize of high school journalism” for his 12 years at Coppell High School, Sidekick adviser Chase Wofford was speechless when the moment finally came to accept the honor.

“Honestly, it still hasn’t sunk in,” Wofford said. “I just heard them say ‘Coppell’ and, I’m not being dramatic, that’s kind of the last thing I remember. I just think that its deserving of this group especially.”

The staff has been honored as a finalist for the online award only four times and the print award once in its history, including the 2015-2016 school year.

“I’m still beaming, I haven’t stopped smiling in like 30 minutes,” Sidekick Editor-in-Chief Meara Isenberg said. “I am so proud of our staff and what we have accomplished this year. I only have a couple more months with [the staff] but I hope that this Pacemaker stands for what they are capable of achieving.”

After facing disappointment the year before, a new class of Sidekick editors stepped up in hopes of turning the tables. The announcement of the award at the NSPA awards ceremony was met with joyful screams, cheers and tears from staff members and, briefly, even Wofford himself.

“I just think we did a really good job of looking at ways to improve,” Wofford said. “We didn’t just

say ‘we were wronged’, we took it as a challenge to get better. I think that’s why I was so emotional about it, just seeing how happy this group of seniors was because I know it was so important to [them].”

After 11 years of working with Wofford on Coppell Student Media, KCBY advisor Irma Kennedy is extremely proud of all the work it took to achieve this honor.

“[Wofford] has been a tremendous leader in growing this program from just a newspaper to the new 21st century model of online delivery of news,” Kennedy said. “It’s not the first time we’ve been nominated, but it’s nice to see that with his leadership and the leadership of the editorial team, we made it happen.”

Along with stories, photos and short videos from The Sidekick staff, Coppell Student Media is supplemented by segments from Coppell High School’s Pacemaker winning student television network KCBY.

Isenberg attests to the team effort it took to make this dream happen, from the newest additions to the most experienced editors on staff.

“While I was sitting there and waiting for [the Pacemaker judges] to call our names, I was thinking about all the stuff that went into making the site and all the different people that impacted it,” she said. “There were great in-depth stories by our writers, there were amazing designs by our graphics and cartoon editors, there were fantastic pictures and photographs from our photo editors and there was definitely great web design.”

While some might consider this high honor the end of the line, the staff of The Sidekick is looking to the future, turning to younger staff members for fresh ideas and inspiration for the year to come.

“As a whole, the leadership that we’ve had this year taught me what Sidekick was and what we stand for,” first year staff writer Amelia Vanyo said. “They taught me how to love journalism. I came into it not really sure if I was going to enjoy it. It is hard, but [the editors] taught me that it’s something I can love even if its hard.”

While graduating seniors have their eyes trained to the next phase of their life, the indelible impact that The Sidekick left on them extends far beyond journalism.

“Right now, the only thing on my mind is how much this award means to me and how much it means to all of us at The Sidekick,” Isenberg said.