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Team EdNC wins journalism awards: Showing up in community and the business of hope

Almost one year into covering the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, team EdNC received numerous awards from the North Carolina Press Association on Friday, Feb. 26 that reflect our continued commitment to showing up in communities to tell the stories of our students, our state, and our future.

EdNC’s CEO Mebane Rash says, “We are not in the business of winning awards, we are in the business of hope, and what makes me proud is that all of our work that won awards is centered on equity in education. That is what matters both now and in the future, during COVID-19 and beyond.”

EdNC shows up in communities

Team EdNC won first place in the education reporting category for a collection of articles on returning to the classroom amid COVID-19.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down K-12 school buildings and community college campuses across North Carolina. Since then, EducationNC has been on the ground covering stories of schools throughout the state as they navigate complex reopening decisions and return students to the classroom.

At times when many others were unable to travel, EdNC continued to show up safely, traveling to 34 school districts and 21 community colleges between March and December 2020.

The judges wrote: “Well crafted, good reads that put human faces on a variety of COVID-related education challenges.”

EdNC shares the stories of strength in rural places

Robert Kinlaw won first place in the video category for his short document titled “Anchored in Tarboro,” the first in a series for EdNC on the strength we see in our rural places. We deeply embed in communities because our schools are anchor institutions, but we’ve realized so are churches and nonprofit organizations and restaurants. 

In December 2018, Kinlaw began making occasional trips to Tarboro. His goal was to meet these people and create a video about them. As he explored the area, it became clear that the work was so extensive that capturing it all in one video would be tough.

“In the 2010 Census, Tarboro’s population was 10,856. Edgecombe County was the sixth poorest county in North Carolina. But there is so much hope,” writes Kinlaw.

The judges wrote: “Fantastic use of video, text, and photo to show off a local community.”

EdNC amplifies the work of our Latinx students, educators, and leaders

Carol Bono won an award in the multimedia category for her Comunidad series on North Carolina’s Latinx students, educators, and community. This series highlights stories of strength and perseverance in North Carolina’s Latinx community. 

“Yes, our stories are filled with struggles, but they’re also filled with resilience and dreams. Our whole stories matter, not the one-sided narratives that make it seem as if migrant and refugee issues happen in a bubble, isolated from every other community.

Only when we take the time to realize that issues affecting migrants, immigrants, and refugees affect all of us will we understand that we all are part of the same community — la misma comunidad,” writes Bono.

EdNC pilots new models of student engagement

Mebane Rash and Alli Lindenberg won an award in the election/political reporting category for their work to create and document a new type of town hall. In February 2020, EdNC held a student town hall with five of the candidates for state superintendent of public instruction. With more than 120 students set to attend from four high schools in Edgecombe County, we learned that only five of these students had ever met a candidate face-to-face. 

The town hall used a non-traditional model, featuring activities ranging from the vulnerable “Who are you?” introduction showcased in the article to a line activity, where candidates had to physically place themselves on a spectrum, from strongly agree to strongly disagree, in response to policy statements that the students had submitted. After seeing where each candidate stood — literally — students had the chance to engage with them in small discussion groups to dive deeper into their questions.

“Civic literacy was alive and thriving in this meeting, and the depth of conversation and engagement was an unbelievable experience to watch,” said Mariah Morris, the 2019 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year.

EdNC breaks the news

Alex Granados won an award in the breaking news coverage category for his reporting on the governor’s announcement of school reopening plans last summer. Nearly four months after COVID-19 closed the public schools, North Carolina’s governor called a news conference to end the suspense about how they would reopen. Schools were given two options, and the choices were complex, with many alternatives to consider around scheduling, transportation, safety, and options for parents and students. 

The story was viewed more than 40,000 times, and the average reader spent nearly seven minutes with it.

EdNC conducts research on the issues surfaced by the news

Molly Osborne and Alex Granados won an award in the education reporting category for their coverage of declining fund balances among North Carolina school districts. 

As COVID-19 raged over the summer, school districts began to dip into their reserve money to cover unexpected costs associated with the pandemic. While federal aid helped some, many districts had outstanding expenses that necessitated local funds. 

Our analysis of fund balances — essentially the district equivalent of a savings account — showed that they had shrunk considerably over the past seven years, with numerous districts not holding back the amount of money dictated by best practices. As the state’s local education agencies looked at monumental unexpected expenses, they were poorly positioned to weather the COVID-19 storm. 

“I spent my lunch break reading your article concerning fund balances and I must say, you are spot on. … Your article utilizes some of the best unbiased experts around and the quality of your writing reflects that. I’m going to forward it to all of our principals, directors, and board members because I couldn’t have said any of this better myself,” wrote one school district’s finance officer.

The judges wrote: “School funding is a challenge to explain in an engaging way. This explains an ongoing problem thoroughly and with some finesse.”

EdNC is in the business of hope

Perhaps now more than ever, EdNC is in the business of hope — a value reflected by two different awards.

Liz Bell won an award in the video category for her video on how music is bringing hope to students in post-hurricane Jones County. Hurricane Florence hit Jones County, and other counties across eastern North Carolina, in fall 2018. The town of Pollocksville was under water. Two schools were lost.

Through creative funding and a public-private partnership, a state-of-the-art preK-12 school opened in Jones County in fall 2019. It’s the district’s first new school in nearly 50 years, replacing the elementary and middle schools ruined by the storm. 

In November 2019, a three-year residency of the North Carolina Symphony kicked off with an education concert — the district’s first-ever symphony concert in its elementary students’ first-ever gymnasium. Bell’s video follows the district over four months of recovery, learning, and celebration.

Finally, Alli Lindenberg won an award in the multimedia project category for her work on Hope Starts Here, a podcast series that was started in March 2020 to elevate stories of good during an unprecedented time of struggle. Lindenberg spoke with students and teachers from across the state, including first-grader Nina Anderson and her mom, educator Steven Gupton, and a special five-part series for teacher appreciation week.

The podcast shed light on how educators were showing up to serve kids — even when there was no road map to guide them.

Staff

EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.