The J. Hop Times student newspaper of John Hopkins Middle School has been named best in the country for the second consecutive year by Weekly Reader, a national education magazine.
The student-run publication was honored Thursday in Washington, D.C., during an awards luncheon held at the Association of Educational Publishers summit.
The J Hop Times was one of 60 middle school papers from across the nation in the competition.
J. Hop Times staffer Brooke Cooley and Melrose Elementary student Kimberly McEntegart were also presented the best individual nonfiction student writing award for middle and elementary school categories, respectively.
Cooley, who will attend Tampa's Sickles High School this fall, said the awards are always morale boosters for the J. Hop Times staff.
"Just working there, it makes you feel good because you know you're working for the best," Cooley said. "It keeps everybody going. It's more than something we do for fun. It's to entertain and it's to inform."
Cooley earned the individual award for an article about a girl attending John Hopkins with alopecia, an ailment that causes hair loss. She said she will donate half of her award's supplemental $500 prize toward a special waterproof wig for the student with alopecia.
"If it wasn't for (her), I would not have been able to win this award," Cooley said.
Jenny Butkus, a third-year journalism coordinator at John Hopkins, said the newspaper staff comprises 120 students enrolled in journalism courses. The curriculum and newspaper, she said, are part of the Midtown Journalism Project, which has former and current journalists serving as teachers. The program began at Melrose Elementary and since expanded to John Hopkins four years ago.
Butkus said her role as an instructor is simple.
"For me, it's just holding the kids to high standards," she said. "The bar has already been set. I believe if you set the standards high, they will rise up."
Maureen Thornton, John Hopkins principal, said an administrator can always think of what articles should be in the paper, but she allows students to choose what articles they feel are best.
"I'm proud, to say the least," said Thornton, who played a part in bringing the program to the school. "The principal doesn't always agree with everything, but I understand. Those are the voices of the students. I don't censor."
In fact, she grants access to the student journalists and there was a day-in-the-life feature article on her in the awarding-winning issue.
"I wondered, 'Do I do all that,' " Thornton said of the article. "The kids couldn't keep up with me. I had to stop and let them regroup. I thought it was kind of neat."
Ira Wolfman, senior vice president of editorial at Weekly Reader, said both the publication and individual awards are a testament to the two schools' journalism programs.
"They're wonderful students," Wolfman said of the variety of articles submitted.
"My editorial staff was struck with these beautiful pieces on students with disabilities. Both (Cooley and McEntegart) were thoughtful and extremely insightful. It is also very exciting to see students using print to communicate."
Butkus said the awards and recognition may inspire some students to pursue careers in journalism, but she said the pleasure is in seeing the students learn life skills, such as how to introduce themselves and conduct adult conversations.
"All in all, we feel the skills of journalism will help them out in many aspects of life," Butkus said.
Eddie R. Cole can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779.