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Lawrence High School senior named Kansas Student Journalist of the Year

Lawrence High School senior named Kansas Student Journalist of the Year

Maya Smith spent the first year of high school taking classes online during the COVID-19 pandemic. She got her start in journalism her sophomore year, taking an interest in photography, which she said helped her connect with her school after a year of isolation.

“I wanted to take pictures of everything possible because I knew I could get better and wanted to learn how to get better,” she said.

Now a senior at Lawrence High School, Lawrence Unified School District 497, Smith is the Kansas Student Journalist of the Year.

On Feb. 21, she was called down to the main office of LHS and walked down the steps of the atrium to be greeted by family, friends, classmates and teachers.

Kansas Scholastic Press Association Executive Director Eric Thomas also was there to present Smith with the award, along with a $1,250 scholarship.

“I would say I was ambushed, but some would say surprised,” Smith joked in front of members of the Kansas State Board of Education at their March 12 meeting. “It was awesome because I spent two months putting together a portfolio, writing the essay, getting the letters of recommendation, and still doing photography, designing the yearbook and reporting in general. So, it was kind of a lot. But the hard work paid off in the end.”

That hard work started early in her high school career. While she continued taking photos her sophomore year, she began doing more reporting and helping the yearbook staff. She eventually began writing her own stories. At the end of her sophomore year, she was promoted to editor-in-chief of LHS’s The Red and Black yearbook.

“I had no prior design experience, so I had to teach myself over the summer and with the help of my adviser Barb [Tholen] how to design and how to layout a page,” she said.

Her junior year, Smith took more initiative with her reporting and covered the closures of two schools in the USD 497 district. That’s when she found she had a passion for breaking news.

“These closures impacted a lot of people close to me and I wanted to report on it as much as I could because it impacted so many people in our community,” she said. “I slowly grew relationships with these people, and I wanted to see it through to the end.”

During her student journalism experience, Smith has learned meaningful leadership skills such as communicating effectively, planning content, providing feedback and advocating for their program.

She also is part of the school’s unified sports program; IPS (Including People Selflessly) program, which is an inclusive leadership class; student council; and LINK, which helps freshmen get integrated into high school.

Tholen has been a journalism adviser at LHS for 14 years.

“Maya is a relentlessly hard worker,” she said. “She works harder than just about anyone I know. She is a phenomenal planner. When I look at her portfolio, it’s such a stunning example of why journalism education is so important because I think you can see the authentic leadership that we offer kids.”

That leadership helped another LHS student win Kansas Student Journalist of the Year in 2022, Culyer Dunn.

“It’s really fun to have these kids who create a tradition for your school,” Tholen said. “I often think the leadership that happens in our classroom is really the students. We think of them often as co-teachers.”

Smith has spoken to some of Tholen’s classes about her experience applying to be the Kansas Student Journalist of the Year. She also has completed her application for National Student Journalist of the Year.

Smith will go on to compete at the national level next month during the Journalism Education Association and National Scholastic Press Association’s Spring National High School Journalism Convention April 4-6 in Kansas City, Mo.

She is currently undecided on which university she will attend but plans to major in journalism with a potential focus on law. Smith hopes another LHS student will win the Kansas Student Journalist of the Year soon.

“Cuyler was a big role model for me two years ago when I first started, so I’m hoping I can do the same for someone who’s shy or who’s the hard-working sophomore who wants to do so much more and can in the future,” Smith said.

Posted: Mar 21, 2024,
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