Haven Yearbook, Panther Press, and Jabberwocky staff members traveled to Temple University on Friday, October 27 for the Pennsylvania School Press Association Regional Student Journalism Competition.
Over 90 students and advisers from seven area schools attended the event. Students spent the day competing in photography, copywriting, caption writing, and literary magazine competitions. Keynote presentations featured journalists from the Philadelphia Inquirer, and students had a chance to participate in roundtable discussions with peers from other schools.
We will learn how our students did in their competitions in January. PSPA provides detailed critiques to every participant. The top-ranked entries in each category will qualify for the state finals at Penn State University in the spring.
Read our team’s reflections on the day below.
Lavanya Dixit '27
Going into Friday, I had no idea what to expect of Temple University’s PSPA Competition.
With excitement, but mainly anticipation, I sat down on a train seat with my SEPTA Key Card gripped in my hand, looking out the window, finally seeing the sun arise. It was hard to remain tired as thrill built up inside of me.
After the pleasant train ride, we reached the building in which the competition would be held. After navigating towards the room, it was clear that we were the first people there, and we had a good amount of time to get comfortable. We were given our itinerary, some Temple-themed journalism materials (a pen and paper), and refreshments. By then, I was anxiously waiting for the activities to begin.
After schools began filing in, it was clear that we were about to start. First, we had the oppurtunity to hear the stories of The Philadelphia Iquirer’s journalists Stephanie Farr and Jason Nark’s. It was a captivating experience, as the stories the individuals shared ranged from heartwarming to horrific.
Finally, it was time for the actual competition. The competition itself was extremely fun and ran soundly! It required us to keep ideas flowing and was extremely interesting at the end to see what we had created, despite the pressure of the hour-long time limit.
At the end, we were able to collaborate with and look at some other school’s newspapers, which was extremely informative and inspiring. The people were all amazing, and the work and stories shared were genuinely motivating.
The trip, overall, was a blast. I can’t wait for this again next year!
Leah Gonzalez-Diaz '24
The sun cast a golden glow over Philly as the SEPTA brought us to our final destination: the PSPA journalism competition at Temple University, or as we enjoy jokingly calling it, “Pispa.” This wasn’t my first rodeo; I had competed and won last year as the state champion for Literary Magazine Artwork. As we stepped off the train platform, I felt a resolve to do my best to win again in my last year to compete.
Entering the building, I immediately ran to the breakfast table I fondly remembered from last October and made myself a bagel with unhealthy amounts of cream cheese. This year the organizers brought name tags as well, so I decorated one for Jo, Mrs. Plows, and myself in bold crayola markers. After the presenters presented on working in The Inquirer and their stories as journalists, it was time to begin the contest.
I felt calm sitting at the large round table as I opened my manila folder with the prompt. For the literary art category, you get one hour to draw an image based on a given poem. I scanned the poem and began sketching as my vision for the piece came immediately. Finishing quickly, I got the chance to take out my Microns and Copics to line and color the piece, until Ms. Plows called time at 11:30.
Afterwards we went to the round table where we talked to a few other art/design students in newspapers and literary magazines from other schools. Finally, we exited the building to get lunch at the food trucks, the mouth-watering aromas of spices floating through the streets. We ended the day by taking the SEPTA back to Wallingford, saying goodbye to the city and eagerly awaiting the competition results coming in January.
Kaitlyn Ho '26
The craziest thing about coming back to the PSPA regionals was thinking about how much had changed between this time and last…and the few things that had remained the same.
In contrast to last time, which can be viewed through the lens of my freshman melodramatic laments (my name is spelled Kaitlin there haha), we didn’t have to wait in the cold for the school bus. We got Septa keycards, and went on the train instead.
Public transportation is surprisingly…okay? I don’t use it very often, and there are so many horror stories of Septa trains portraying the very worst of city life, from disgusting smells to miscellaneous pieces of gum stuck to the bottom of chairs.
Thankfully, the train we went on smelled normal, and no pieces of gum were discovered. Highly recommend the public transportation in the morning option–you can see the sky turn the prettiest colors.
The speakers this time were from the Philadelphia Inquirer, and told weirdly exciting stories all aspiring journalists would have been thrilled to listen to–and experience. From covering crime to covering Philly, they were experienced and answered our many questions fairly well. There was definitely more audience participation than last year.
The contest itself was as low key as last year. Proud to say that I did include a headline unlike last time.
Out of the roundtables and the Temple tour, I did the roundtables since I’d already explored Temple last year. It was a good experience to hear what other student publications are doing (aka, marveling at their gorgeous color print copies and daily uploads…how???). There could have been more guided discussions, like a list of questions, and it was difficult for the newspaper group to crowd over one table and talk to each other over the diameter of the circle.
Growing up is very strange. I looked back at my last blog post for reference to write this one, and decided I would have never written something like that today. Does that mean I became a better writer? I hope so.
This contest definitely helps my writing abilities. It’s lovely to have the chance to forget about the pressures of school, sit down, and really focus on what you’re writing without distraction.
Charlotte Horetsky '24
“She’ll probably never fall for that again,” I told Damola as we walked out of the room– laughing in the hallway. Pranking our yearbook adviser was not on my to-do list that morning, but after spending an hour writing, it was nice to laugh with a friend.
I’ve participated in the PSPA journalism competition since I joined the yearbook staff in 10th grade. Each year, I have competed in the category of yearbook caption writing. For the past two, I have made it to states and received third place.
Something that has constantly fascinated me about these trips are the Keynote speakers. The advice and stories they provide are always a valuable component of the day’s activities– this time was no different.
The Philadelphia Inquirer journalists Stephanie Farr and Jason Nark not only spoke of instances where they covered stories that were haunting, exciting, strange, and typical, but they reflected on their experiences in telling those stories in an engaging manner.
Despite the fact that I intend to pursue a career in medicine, I appreciated their perspectives and suggestions, such as when Farr recommended taking a public speaking or theater class in order to be more confident, prepared, and approachable. Personally, their most memorable piece of advice was the statement that behind every story is a person. For the journalists, their work is important because they strive to not only find the stories, but discover the people behind them, as well.
After the Keynote speakers, it was time for the on-site competitions. As usual, the hour provided to write five captions evaporated. Glancing at my work, I reluctantly slid the papers into their envelope before turning them in.
Furthermore, during the roundtable discussions, I enjoyed the opportunity to meet other students interested in yearbook and listen to the ways that their publications approach covering the events of the year.
As people began to file out of the room in search of lunch, Damola and I wandered over to where the publications advisers were taking a selfie.
“Do you have the Conestoga yearbook?” Ms. Plows asked, when she finished taking a selfie with the other advisers– referring to the one she handed us before the presentations began.
“No,” we responded– explaining our assumption and its subsequent placement on the publications swap table.
“What? It took days for me to work that trade out!” Ms. Plows said, dismayed– imagining its disappearance and the futility of the work to arrange the trade.
“We can go get it back,” Damola said.
“It should still be on the table, though there were a lot of newspapers there, last I saw it,” I said in an attempt to ease her fears.
“Yes, go look!” Ms. Plows said, stressed, yet hopeful.
When we reached the swap table, the yearbook had, fortunately, not disappeared, but was, instead, being examined by other Strath Haven students.
Damola retrieved the book and we sped back to the competition room to deliver the news.
At the moment of our return, Ms. Plows was immersed in conversation with another adviser.
“Do you want to pretend that we couldn’t find it?” Damola asked– voicing a thought that had crossed my mind only moments before.
“Yes!” I said, a little bit too loudly.
“Let me just put it in my bag,” she said, walking to a chair with her back facing Ms. Plows, while I joined her at the table and began to push the chairs in.
Once the yearbook was secured, we walked over to the chatting advisers and pretended to be glum, while they finished their conversation.
“You couldn’t find it?!” Ms. Plows inferred from our demeanor– panicking a bit.
“Damola…” I said nervously, looking to my right, where she was busy on her phone.
A moment passed, before she looked up– right at Ms. Plows– and said, “It’s in my bag.”
Ms. Plows let out a long sigh and began to laugh– Damola and I joining in not long after.
Every year, I learn something new and valuable, in addition to being able to experience the unique event. Whether I make it to Penn State or not, the experience still remains one that I am glad I chose.
Jo Kelly '24
I had a wonderful time at Temple attending PSPA! The experience was both educational and fun. I learned a lot about journalism and the other publications at various schools from Pennsylvania. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to compete in a creative writing competition, as well. I was challenged by the competition, but I also enjoyed writing my poem immensely.
The day started off with an early train ride (6:50 in the morning!!!!). I loved it. Sitting at the train station sipping warm tea was a nice change from the fluorescent lights of Haven. When we got on the train, the sun had just started rising, and we had a lovely train ride into the city.
When we arrived at Temple, breakfast refreshments were waiting for us. I had some yummy fruit salad and I sat and chatted with my friends Matthew and Leah for a while. Then the keynote speakers began their talk. Two journalists from The Philadelphia Inquirer spoke about their experiences in journalism: everything from crazy stories about men climbing greased poles after Philadelphia sports events to how to deal with writers’ block to somber reflections on crime reporting.
Afterwards, it was time for the competition. I was a little nervous at first, but Ms. Plows’ calming presence helped me to refocus. I put in my AirPods, played some classical music, and began my brainstorming process. The prompt this year was an interesting concept–somewhat difficult, but I was inspired after a couple of minutes and I began to write. The hour flew by. I loved the tranquil environment and getting to do what I love most–write poetry.
When the competition was finished, we were allowed to get lunch at the food trucks lining the streets near Temple. My friend and I split a shrimp burrito bowl (which was delicious) and a mango smoothie.
I had a great time at PSPA. Thank you to Ms. Drew and Ms. Plows for organizing this event and making it a successful day!
Clark Kerkstra '27
Overall, I had fun at the PSPA contest at Temple. I liked that we went on the train. Usually we go on the bus, and going on the train was way better. Trains are just kind of cool. On the way, I enjoyed some funny stories for Stephanie Farr and Jason Nark of the Inquirer, who were going to be the keynote speakers for the event.
Once we arrived, we walked to the Temple campus, where there was a very nice second breakfast for us. I appreciated that since I had not eaten for two hours.
We heard the director of the Temple journalism school discuss college opportunities in journalism. Jason Nark and Stephanie Farr then provided us with some journalism tips and advice, and I believe it will help me in the future.
We then were sent to the room for the contest. I did okay, writing an okay story. There were two main reasons I was unable to do my best work. Firstly, there was a time limit. That made things difficult, as I was scrambling at the end. Secondly, we needed to handwrite it. This compounded the time issue, as I needed to set aside 30 minutes to legibly write the words. That’s half the time limit.
I still did okay, though I was scrambling and scribbling by the end.
We then got to split into groups for the newspaper roundtable. My first thought when I saw Conestoga’s newspaper was: How much money did they spend on that? They had 60 people on their staff and a class in which they could do their work for the newspaper.
In order to keep up, Strath Haven needs more funds for the newspaper, a class, and more opportunities like this!
It was a fun trip and I would do it again.
Janna Murphy '24
The day started with an auspicious sunrise that was brilliantly pink and purple. We got to watch the sky change as we rode the train into the city. I was excited for the day and slightly nervous about the competition, but ultimately the day was more fun than I could have hoped!
The PSPA Regionals at Temple was a fun and educational experience for me! I loved hearing Stephanie Farr and Jason Nark discuss their journalism backstory and share their insights on the journalism industry. I had previously not considered journalism as a career path, but after hearing about their love for what they do, I am seriously considering it as a future career.
The competition itself was extremely fun, albeit a little stressful. The competitive atmosphere made for an environment in which creativity flowed. At the end of the hour, I had completed something I felt proud of and was grateful to have the opportunity to participate.
We broke for lunch after a round table discussion in which we met with other schools and talked about our school newspapers and litmags. These discussions allowed us to meet other dedicated journalists, artists, and writers, and discover the differences between school publications. We gained helpful tips on how to improve our litmag layout and other advice related to the newspaper!
After the event wrapped up, we all went out to the food trucks. Meg and I ordered gyros at this one truck which was very yummy, and the owner of the truck was super kind and gave us free water bottles. All around the experience was great and the food was amazing.
Matthew Ramirez '26
Typically on Fridays I have the normal schedule of going to school, but on Friday October 27, I would be traveling to Temple University to compete in PSPA. I chose to compete in the photography section of the competition, because not only is photography a personal passion, it is one of my strong suits. The submission prompts, directions, and process was simple and straightforward, I pressed the submit button with confidence.
On competition day, Friday October 27, I woke up earlier than I usually would. I, as well as other competing PSPA members, met at the SEPTA Wallingford Station for a 30 minute train ride to Temple University. The train ride was particularly memorable to me because it was my first time ever on SEPTA. I learned how SEPTA functioned, from me purchasing and using a keycard to learning routes to Center City; I’m excited to use the SEPTA system in the future.
We arrived at Temple University, and after a quick walk and an elevator ride to the second floor of the Klein College building, we made our way into the conference room. I really enjoyed the environment, it was professional, clean, and welcoming. We were also complimented with simple morning breakfast options including fruit, pastries, bagels, and coffee.
Promptly at 9 a.m., the first seminar with Stephanie Farr and Jason Nark from the Philadelphia Inquirer kicked off. Farr and Nark discussed their life and how they both discovered and got into journalism. Their upbringings are quite similar, writing for high school newspapers, local papers, until they worked their way up to the Inquirer. After their extensive discussion of their lives, they opened the room to the students for questions. I probably should have came more prepared with some questions and some knowledge about the works they publish, but also at the same time, I didn’t really know what to expect.
Competing schools came with many great questions ranging from the writing process, personal experiences, and AI use in writing. I came with no questions prepared, though I did learn a lot, the least I could do is give my undivided attention and I’m glad I did. I learned more about how to create stories, the writing process, and how to cope and face criticism that you may encounter as a reporter. The first seminar ended with my brain full of knowledge and motivated to create. Students that were competing were escorted to the competition rooms and photography students were left in the main conference room.
The next seminar promptly began with Heather Khalifa, a photojournalist from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Similarly as above, Khalifa opened her seminar, discussing her early life, her photography and journalism journey, as well as her higher education experiences at Stony Brook University and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Khalifa curated a beautiful and extremely informative presentation of using different photography styles and techniques to tell a story with photographs. The presentation included countless examples of famous photographers and their work. She explained techniques such as the rule of thirds, 5 shot rule, and waiting for the right moment. She also gave advice such as “arrive early, stay late” and “fill the frame” which stuck with me the most. Photography is a process of always learning and improving which I think Khalifa interpreted quite well in her presentation.
Annika Slootmaker '26
As the days get darker, it has become a norm for me to be out the door before the sun has even thought about coming up, so I expected a dark train ride. But within 5 minutes of stepping on the train, the sky broke out in a beautiful sunrise of oranges and vibrant pinks that I spent the whole ride looking at. My parents, who have commuted into Philadelphia for work, said that it was “all part of the experience” to see the sunrise from the train. It certainly helped me wake up for the day ahead.
When we arrived at Temple, I grabbed some food (why not) and waited for the rest of the schools to arrive, not knowing what to expect. Due to this year being my first on yearbook, I hadn’t realized what kind of culture to expect there, but I was pleasantly surprised at how similar all of the schools were even though most of us didn’t know many people outside of our school.
We began listening to the keynote speakers from the Inquirer, and I felt the passion they had for journalism. I am grateful that they were able to come share their experiences with us, as it really helped me see the versatility of the subject. They mentioned how their job allowed them to travel the world and meet all kinds of people, especially from Philadelphia, and find their stories.
After most of the room left to compete, I was left with others to listen to Heather Khalifa, a photographer whose work I find fascinating. She told us about her late start to photography and her past experiences that have led her to become who she is today. Heather then told us about some additional composition and technique tips that she had come up with, including when and where you should put yourself to take a specific shot, which was very helpful to me as I hadn’t given that much thought prior to this trip. One thing she kept reminding us throughout the presentation was that you should go early and stay late to find the great shots that are often overlooked.
After her presentation was finished, we went on a tour of the arts building, passing this massive and beautifully designed library in the center of campus. In the building, we got to see the Temple TV broadcasting center where they shoot the news, which was very cool to see.
We were then set out to the food trucks where I ended my day with good food and an engaging conversation with the EIC’s and others, and hopped back on the train to end my day. I would definitely go again and this experience brought my attention to the world that is journalism.
Oyindamola Songonuga '24
I first learned about the PSPA competition in my junior year, but wasn’t able to attend. When Ms. Plows began planning for this year’s competition, I knew I had to be a part of it. I participated in the yearbook copywriting section and had an absolute blast!
We started the day off super early and took a train to the Temple campus. There, we met at least 35 other high school students from surrounding schools and swapped publications. I got to look through yearbooks from other schools and there were so many cool mods, colors, and designs that I felt we could implement into the Haven Yearbook.
We met two keynote speakers who talked about their experiences as journalists and how journalism had affected their lives. They both worked for the Daily News and currently write for the Philadelphia Inquirer. I was inspired by their love for journalism and their willingness to venture into potentially dangerous areas to collect facts.
The competition provided me with a new challenge. I have been writing yearbook copy since my freshman year, and I thought I was at a good place, but creating a story from the prompts and writing a copy in one hour was a whole new experience. I was still writing when there were five minutes left on the clock! By the time we finished and my assignment was turned in, I felt like I had reached a new level with my writing. I wrote a copy for an impactful event in such a short amount of time, and I felt really happy with what I was able to say and how well I brought that story to life.
I learned so many new insights while attending the PSPA competition and honestly, I loved every minute of it! I would do it again in a heartbeat!