Ten members of the Haven Yearbook, Panther Press, and Jabberwocky staffs traveled to Penn State University on Thursday, March 30, 2023 to participate in the Pennsylvania School Press Association’s state student journalism competition day.

Four students previously qualified for state finals at the regional competition in November: senior Nuala McHugh for literary magazine poetry, junior Leah Gonzalez-Diaz for literary magazine artwork, junior Charlotte Horetsky for yearbook caption writing, and junior Jillian Thomas for news writing.

Gonzalez-Diaz won the Pennsylvania State Championship in literary magazine artwork, and the rest of our competitors placed well in their contests and received detailed feedback on their submissions.

Throughout the day, Haven students participated in a press conference with Michael McDermott, the 2020-2023 Nittany Lion mascot, joined in roundtable discussions with other student journalists from around the state, and toured the Bellisario College of Communication.

Read our reactions to the experience:

Marilyn Ashley '25

 This year’s Penn State trip was an incredible experience. Even though I wasn’t competing I still received so much this trip. I loved being on campus and experiencing what it was like. It was honestly very odd, and I felt out of place, but it was a good feeling. I was able to get out of my comfort zone and explore a little.

On the tour of the Willard building, I was amazed at all of the opportunities they had. There were so many open places for creation, and it was really cool to see. They had multiple studios made for tv show production, new production, and other types of media. There were also rooms for podcasts and voice recording too. It was really cool to see the intricate technology they used every day. It was a different experience, but well worth it. I learned a lot about careers that I didn’t think existed and opportunities in college that I could have never wrapped my mind around until this trip.

I really enjoyed the press conference they host there that we attended. It was informative, interesting, and overall cool to witness a story being told through an interview. Even though it was a long ride, it was still so fun to bond with everyone and also meet people from different schools. We even became friends with some girls from the other Panther Press in Pennsylvania! And to top it off, the ice cream place was amazing.

Definitely such a great place and this trip will forever be memorable.

Jessica Farhat '23

On Thursday March 30 we went up to Penn State University for the PSPA state finals. We started the day in the HUB and listened to a press conference with the Nittany Lion and learned a lot of cool and interesting things about the traditions that come with the costume. Then we continued to explore the HUB and get a small taste of the college experience. During lunch we were able to meet up with an old student from Strath Haven and catch up. After that, we headed back to the auditorium to listen to last year’s student journalist of the year and what she did to obtain the position, as well as learn about what she is currently involved in at PSU. We took a tour of the communications college and I was able to see the behind the scenes of how many of their broadcasting classes work. We ended the day at the Creamery with great ice cream.

Over all, I learned a lot about the experience and the work ethic that comes with Penn State University. The staff that was there did their best to ensure we had the best time, and made sure we learned everything we could in such a short amount of time. While I did not get to compete, being there with everyone made it one of the best experiences of my high school career. I hope that in the future students will be able to share the same experiences as I did. 

Leah Gonzalez-Diaz '24

Like any day brimming with potential, we started our March 30 by saying hello to Strath Haven High School at 5 A.M. in the freezing cold. Promptly getting on the bus and picking up some Conestogians on the way, we prepared to go to the PSPA finals.

There were many questions along the journey: mainly 20 Questions, and how much longer until we would arrive. We also pondered on what a nittany lion is—truly a question for the decades. But finally, after the 3-4 hour treacherous journey, cresting the empty and vast terrain of the Appalachians we were able to witness our final destination: Penn State.

After we competitors got our contest files and some swag bags, we all waited a bit in the lobby before the start of the press conference. Surprisingly, our most pressing bus question did get answered: we shouldn’t have been asking what a nittany lion is, but in fact who the Nittany Lion is. And as the star of the press conference, we got some fascinating insights into his life as an anonymous and beloved mascot at Penn State.

Finally, when the interview was wrapped up we got ready to begin the contest.

Not much can be said about sitting in a room for an hour to draw, but I enjoyed it. The prompt for the Lit Mag Artwork category is creating a piece based off of a poem they give you. By the end of it I was fairly happy with what I had done; of course, with such limited time it was far from perfect, but you work with what you got. We slipped our final works into manilla envelopes with our names, headed off to lunch, and waited for the results.

Before that, however, we were able to participate in something I found super insightful and fun: roundtable discussions with other publications. Nuala and I were able to meet two other literary magazines from different parts of Pennsylvania, and it was genuinely so cool to be able to hear their experiences and share ideas for fundraising, recruitment, and club activities. It’s easy to get stuck in your own bubble at school, and this was a great chance to look into what others just like you are doing! We came back to Strath Haven armed with new things to implement into Jabberwocky and so much inspiration.

Finally, it was time to announce the winners. Slowly, they went through some general awards, then category by category, until it was time for mine: 11L. And somehow, I had won! I shuffled up to the stage and accepted my plaque, got some photos taken of me smiling sheepishly, and celebrated the Jabberwocky and Haven win.

We finished the day by getting some fantastic ice cream at the creamery- which I of course paired with pickles like a crazy person because after the longest days, you get the weirdest cravings. Braving the treacherous voyage back, we finally arrived back at Haven at 8 P.M. 

I truly enjoyed the trip and I’m so glad that I was able to go. Not only was it a fun time, but we were able to get so many valuable insights for things to implement into Jabberwocky and I even took home a prize! Here’s to next year’s PSPAs!

Julia Gray '23

Traveling to State College for PSPA was awesome (even though we had to wake up at 5 A.M.).

The day started for me at 4:45, when I rolled out of bed and drove to school, but, honestly, I didn’t even mind. Above my sleepiness, I was just so excited. Excited to spend time with newspaper/yearbook/lit-mag staff, excited to see Conestoga students/advisers,  and excited to make new connections. 

Admittedly, I spent most of the time on the bus asleep. That didn’t matter much though; the real fun began when we arrived at Penn State. 

It was so fun to encourage the people who were competing, and I absolutely loved the publication exchange table. We also got to hear and engage in a press conference. It got me excited for what could be ahead for me in a career in journalism. I loved to hear questions from other student journalists and from a Penn State student who led the discussion. It definitely made me think of some creative questions I could ask when interviewing.

We broke for lunch soon after that, and I got to catch up with Zoe, a Strath Haven alum, and eat my first-ever sandwich since getting my wisdom teeth out. Big moves!! 

When competitors were done, they met us to debrief. It was great to hear about their experience, and I really appreciated that we had the time to talk through some of what they observed and learned while competing. 

I decided to stick around the Hub, where most of the events of the day took place, for a round-table discussion. I talked to other editors-in-chief about their publications. It was great to be able to share our experiences and get advice from each other. Honestly, it showed me just how far I have come. At the beginning of the year, I definitely wouldn’t have been in the place to give advice, but, at this round table, people were curious about our operations and seemed to think we have our “ducks in a row” (not my words). 

Of course, a brief of the day wouldn’t be complete without mentioning our state champion, Leah. I screamed like a banshee when she was called. It was so awesome to see everyone so proud of her. 

Surprisingly, the ice cream (which was very good) wasn’t my favorite part of the trip. It was the little moments that reminded me how far our tiny club has come. Some were bittersweet, like when I was reminded that I would be leaving soon, but I am proud to say that I am not worried. I am just so excited.

Jack Henry '23

Getting to travel with a group of like minded people on an informative and fun trip is an opportunity you can’t pass up on. When it comes to Strath Haven journalism trips, we do it like no other. From Philly, to St. Louis, and now Penn State, the Panther Press and Yearbook club journalism field trips are a thrill. 

On March 30, I had the privilege of traveling with some of the most amazing journalists I know to Penn State and watching them participate in the Journalism State Finals. They competed in categories from Photo Captioning to Magazine Art. Even though I did not qualify for the finals this year, seeing them compete was a pleasure. 

While the competitions were going on, the rest of us got to meet up with Strath Haven graduate, and my best friend, Zoe Feinberg. It was a pleasure talking to her about Penn State and getting the inside scoop on what goes on around campus, opportunities to get involved, and a look into what could lie in the future for some of our staff. 

After the competitions were over, we had lunch in the HUB, Penn State’s student center and where the finals were taking place. In the afternoon, the group split up again, some attending numerous round table discussions, and others, myself included, attending a tour of Penn States’ Bellisario School of Communications. From news rooms to behind the scenes broadcast equipment, the Bellisario College had everything to offer. It was so much fun seeing all of the opportunities college would have in the future. Even though I am already committed to another university, seeing Penn State was still an inspiring experience. 

Before the long bus road home to our beds after a long day, we ended with a trip to the famous Penn State Creamery for some ice cream. Mouth watering cannot even begin to describe the refreshing taste of ice cream after a long day of journalism.

Trips like these always leave me thinking about the future. After only experiencing Strath Haven for 18 years, seeing other places and opportunities always inspires me to do more. As a senior, having the opportunity to branch out can be incredibly refreshing. Traveling to Penn State was my last journalism field trip I will take at Strath Haven. In the coming years, these field trips wil turn into opportunities I am a part of. Soon, I will be the one showing up coming high schoolers the opportunities they will have in college. 

This trip was one of the most rewarding opportunities I have had. Getting to see my fellow staff members win awards and further their skills reassures me that the future of student journalism at Haven, and across the country, is in good and capable hands.

Charlotte Horetsky '24

After staring at the blank document for at least forty-five minutes, formulating my thoughts through an “events of the day” brainstorm/checklist, and reading some of last year’s blog posts, I finally decided to begin writing about the amazing experience of PSPA State Finals.

Even though I was a participant last year, I can honestly attest to the fact that both trips were incredibly valuable and, in their own ways, eventful.

Driving to State College with Conestoga and a larger group of Strath Haven students was definitely the more feasible option– compared to the van-bus of 2022. As a result, aspects of the scenery that have become a constant for me, as I am from Central PA and travel back to visit family often, was a novelty for many of the other participants, such as the Statue of Liberty on the Susquehanna River (placed there as a prank to celebrate the centennial of the one in NY).

By the time the Press Conference started, I felt as prepared as I could anticipate being– I had been mentally captioning moments at random throughout the week, besides actually captioning some photos on Monday. Hence, as the exuberant interview of the previous mascot unfolded, I simultaneously reminded myself not to chop quotes—something I was docked points for last year.

Finally, the time to participate in the competition arrived and, yet, my experience during those fifty-five minutes was absolutely ludicrous and slightly irritating. I began with the first caption—and the naïve goal of finishing with enough time to meticulously read and correct the five finished captions for any grammatical errors. However, the minutes evidently held other plans. During the allotted time, I sent my water bottle rolling underneath another contestant’s chair (I moved it back with my foot), accidentally ripped the paper way too many times, and managed to erase with enough force to send the eraser, of the provided pencil, unevenly flying off and onto the unfinished captions, which seemed to mock my efforts.

In addition, as I erased sections of displeasing captions, and caused several rips in the process, they became increasingly disorganized– each caption found a different side and section on the pages– contrary to my neat organization last year. Furthermore, my handwriting became gradually more atrocious as I rushed to at least complete them, which I fortunately did.

In hindsight, it is difficult for me to appreciate the whole preposterous situation—perhaps if I had taken a picture of my area, after turning my captions in, I could comprehend everything better. There were eraser crumbs everywhere, the broken majority of the eraser was still lying on the desk, and the rest of the table appeared not to have a single piece of immediately visible evidence of the concluded competition. In short, as I tried to write sensational captions, I managed to become, as was discussed after the competition, the day’s Editorial Cartoon—frazzled, yet with quite a dire and riveting story to tell.

I would be remiss if I did not highlight some of the less dramatic of my captioning experience– the invent-the-story caption, which involved a skateboard, a smash into the pavement, and a responsible cow. I managed to devise a plausible reason for the incident, depicted through the quote provided and photo—a branch broke the fence and a scared, bolting cow caused the skateboarder to dive head-first into the pavement. The invent-the-story captions are always my favorite to write because they are the creative side of the otherwise formulaic process.

After lunch, saying hello to Zoe, the tour of Bellisario College, which, for some, was the roundtable, and Lucy Bickel’s presentation, it was time for the awards ceremony. The first announced category of the entries completed at the tournament was caption writing. As more names were called for each successive category, we clapped in support of the other students, but when the winning entry Leah submitted was called, there was an eruption of cheers—entirely from the Strath Haven group.

Soon after, and elated, we walked to the Creamery and picked out ice cream for the drive back. As I alternately read and watched the scenery, an eventful day that had begun when I woke up at 3:50 am soon became a collection of joy-filled memories.

Moreover, on the drive back, I had the opportunity to read my rubric and captions. I earned a 31/36, which was an improvement from my 30/36 last year, and the only suggestions offered were to abbreviate “December” and to exclude the years, as yearbooks do not have an expansive span of time. The day after, I learned that I placed third—also the same as last year—which was reassuring after experiencing the comedic and consecutive writing debacles. As I reflected on handing the captions to the collectors, and collecting some of the forgotten pencils of others, I understood that it was still an exceptional and gratifying adventure regardless of the fact that my submission was not written to its absolute potential.

Although I may have been just a little bit too dedicated in the caption writing portion of the day, it was, overall, an extraordinary experience because one of the best components of the three Yearbook trips that I have taken are the people that participate in them.

Evelynn Lin '25

Coming along on this Penn State trip was a rather spontaneous decision for me. I didn’t even know how worthwhile of an experience this would be for me until I stepped onto a school bus after shivering in the freezing cold at 5 in the morning. 

From sharing laughs with so many members of the Yearbook, Newspaper, and Jabberwocky staff to meeting Zoe Feinberg ’22 for the first time ever (super sweet person all the way around) to being part of press conferences and presentations and tours, and to eating a yummy treat of Penn State Creamery ice cream, I didn’t just learn a lot about journalism and how wide of options I have beyond high school, but also it was probably one of the greatest ways I have bonded with students of other newspapers and from my very own too.

Especially with meeting the other Panther Press, who are super kind people. We sat behind them at a press conference held by two seniors (one an aspiring news reporter and the other a former Nittany Lion), and we even sprung friendships then and there, plus pictures may or may not have been taken too. Three girls complimented my blue hair, which was so sweet of them. It made me smile the whole rest of the conference, which was super interesting and really cool for me that I could witness discussion in an auditorium full of student journalists. 

Another memorable moment of bonding was the 4-hour bus ride to the college and back. I naturally tend to get motion sick super easily, but I don’t know, being with some members of our crew made me forget the churning in my stomach and nauseousness. It was simply a bus ride of taking 0.5 pictures, blasting music in my ears, and taking little naps, which storytime: I took a one-and-a-half-hour nap on the way home and woke up falling off my very own seat. And it was a funny moment because I couldn’t get out, and Charlotte had to help me up. It was a good laugh for most of the Yearbook and PP staff (ahem Marilyn). 

The tour was also a great time to get closer to members of the Yearbook team. Getting to see all the equipment and classrooms of the Williard Building at Bellesario College of Communications was so cool. Who would’ve known a classroom could consist of green screens three times my height and a bunch of cameras? I was really impressed. It was even more epic because they had like a TV-like recording room table, where everyone from all the schools who went on the tour sat around and got a group picture for. I got to sit in the lovely chair, which was really fun. It’s like those chairs that you can twist and turn in, but don’t have the wheels at the bottom. I was really enjoying myself sitting there, and Riley got a picture of me in it too. 

BeReal also went off during the tour too, so as our collective group, we each took turns doing our BeReals together. I think we all became closer that way for being screenagers. 

There are even more memories still swirling from this trip that I don’t think I’ll forget soon, if at all. I still remember the laughs I got out of snagging a few of Gray’s fries or messing around with Jack over adding my name to his name tag since I didn’t have one (which is actually on his name tag now) or trying Marilyn and Riley’s coffees, even though coffee tastes gross to me. 

I’m glad I got to see and support four contestants going for a win in a competition where so many schools are aiming for first place. Even though none of our members except Leah won first place in their category, I was really proud they made it so far and were runner-ups for first. I especially bonded with Charlotte because she did yearbook captioning, just like I did back in the Temple trip for PSPA. It was also great being able to sit in an auditorium and whoop with surprise and joy when Leah won. 

The day closed off with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream from the Creamery, which is hands-down one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had, and sitting on a bus in the dark, watching the sun go down, reiterating the day with everyone else on the bus. I sure was exhausted when I hit the haystack, but I went to school the next day wishing I could repeat the day over again. It was a day of team-building and joy that I hope I can be back for next year.

Nuala McHugh '23

I had never woken up at 4 before, the first of many new experiences I had that day. I had stocked my bag the night before with coffee, water, and snacks from Wawa to nourish me through my four-hour journey to Penn State. Armed with my friends, snacks, and a pencil, I took on PSPA States.

It is always such a treat to visit new colleges! I was in awe when I saw the size of Penn State — it was like its own mini city! We got to see a variety of spots around campus, such as the arts center, the Hub, and most importantly the creamery!! Can’t recommend it enough. We arrived and were greeted with breakfast options, swag bags, and our own personal lanyards with our names printed on them! I have never felt more professional.

We also had the privilege of sitting in on a press conference interviewing the former Nittany Lion. The competition itself was as, expected, fast-paced, but very fun.

Following lunch, we were able to either go on tours of the communications facility, or join one of the many roundtable discussions organized for our specific category. Leah and I were able to go to a roundtable with other literary magazine editors, and discuss the ins and outs of curating high school literary magazines. This was super informative for our process and really planted a lot of seeds for potential future improvement.

We ended the day at the creamery and I was able to get some ice cream before heading back on the bus home for another four hours, which I spent engrossed in the beautiful views of upstate PA.

Riley Smith '25

After gathering myself and all the random items I brought with me, my fellow journalists and I got out of the bus, most of us unsure of what would become of the day. For myself, I had no idea what the day would look like, other than I was determined to learn something. My goal for the day was to act like a sponge and absorb anything I could. 

We arrived at Penn State around 9:30 and got little lanyards that had our schedules on the back. At first glance at the schedule, I was a little uneasy. Because I wasn’t competing, I was free for a total of three hours including my lunch. I had no idea what I could possibly do for those three hours, given I had access only to paper, a pen, and a camera.

But then I stepped back and observed. Penn State and Haven are two completely different atmospheres. All places have a story, if you find the right angle. So I looked. I wanted to find that way in to know what they all were thinking. 

I found that in the group interview of the Nittany Lion. Penn State is so different from our high school, yet it is still their communities that hold them together. 

After that interview, I started to notice the differences. Before, I thought the students disliked each other. I thought they wanted to stay separate. The students all seem to have an unspoken familiarity with one another. Even if they didn’t know each other, they seemed to recognize each other. 

I feel I learned a lot about not only how to be a better journalist, but also how to understand a community and be able to capture it so I can highlight it. 

Jillian Thomas '24

On Thursday, March 30th, I traveled with members of the Panther Press, Jabberwocky, and Yearbook to Penn State for the PSPA State Finals (sorry for the article-esque intro, KP). And as I write this in a hotel room in Middleburg, Virginia, I can proudly a massively improved journalist.

PSPA state finals solidified the fact that I want to pursue a minor in journalism in college, and it gave me an invaluable opportunity to connect with students who share the same passion as me. Where else would I get the opportunity to interview the Penn State Mascot, have round table discussions with other editors, and eat amazing ice cream?! 

My absolute favorite part of the day was being able to talk openly and candidly with other newspapers about their experiences, and to share my own. Writing was fun, but stressful, but the round tables were exactly the opposite: it felt amazing to talk about the things that bother us about working for a newspaper, and to compare tips and tricks. It was truly amazing to hear that other publications were able to talk about anything and everything; and it was amazing to hear about the impact journalism has on these small school communities. While sitting in a circle with fifteen other high schoolers, I learned more than I ever thought I would. 

Another highlight of the day was meeting the “other Panther Press.” Even though we may never see them regularly, it was so fun to meet another equally passionate group of students. The day was exhausting and long, but it felt shorter because of the amazing experiences. 

My second favorite part of the day was definitely the press conference, only because I had to record the whole thing. But it was really amazing to see someone interviewing someone else with such poise and confidence; I want to emulate Isabella in my journalism endeavors. Watching the conversation between Isabella and Michael was wonderful; it seemed so natural, and they both had chemistry. 

When the results were sent to us the next day, I was both pleased and a little disappointed that I missed out on first place by two points, but I am so excited to come back and do it again next year.

Ms. Kate Plows

There was a moment before PSPA finals—I think maybe at around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night, when I breathed a sigh of relief that the school’s front door was open so I could drop off my camera bag from the track meet and grab the nurse’s bag that I’d forgotten—that I just felt too tired for another field trip.

“What if,” I thought to myself as I drove home to West Chester at sunset, “you just didn’t set your alarm?” I wondered if my students would still get on the bus. I had a feeling that this strong, independent group would, and that their day would be just fine without me. Our bus mates from Conestoga High School were even bringing along a school nurse. The kids would be fine, I thought. I’ll catch the updates on social media.

Of course, I was kidding myself. Not about the tired part; if I could sum up how I’ve felt this school year in one word, it’s exhausted. Weary or not, though, there was no way I would miss the 5 a.m. bus to Penn State to spend a day with my journalism tribe of students and colleagues.

“The people at the check-in desk… when we told them we were Strath Haven, they said that you’re, like, the best adviser anywhere,” Nuala said after registration. Quite an exaggeration from the PSPA crowd, but these events do always feel sort of like a family reunion. I was on the PSPA board for years, so this qualifies me for a round of big hugs with the organizers. The board is a deeply committed group of volunteers, all overachievers who somehow manage to put together statewide journalism contests atop newspapers and yearbooks at their schools.

To say it’s a niche is an understatement. Maybe, eventually, I’ll feel like I have my act together enough to re-join them.

Speaking of reunions—it’s become an organic tradition for this trip to feature reconnections with alumni who are attending Penn State. Spending time with Zoe Feinberg ’22, a current Penn State freshman, was as much of a reason for a few of our seniors to attend this trip as the PSPA events. (I was supportive of their rationale!)

Joe Lister is a sophomore journalism major at PSU, and an alum of my previous school. I’ve known him since sixth grade; when he was in eighth grade, he was JEA’s national Aspiring Young Journalist. He’s a lot taller now, an active contributor at Onward State, and an assistant editor at Philadelphia Soccer Now. He’s going to New Zealand this summer to cover the women’s FIFA World Cup with AP.

During the contests, while our non-competing Panthers explored the HUB and our competing staffers wore their erasers to stubs (read Charlotte’s post), Joe had some time between classes to catch up with his old adviser. We laughed about old times, talked about bylines and blogs, and wrote a letter together to a former editor who was away at Army Ranger School.

At some point during our conversation, Joe pulled out a small black Moleskine notebook, nearly full of his writing. “Same notebook since 2018,” he said, thumbing it through. “You remember when you gave me this?”

He handed it to me. I paged through. Early pages had names I remembered—Sillup, Algeo, Lappas—while later pages were full of questions about college sports. I felt like I was supposed to remember giving him this notebook, like it was a momentous occasion. But the memory escaped me.

“I got an interview with the graduation speaker, and I showed up that morning with no notebook and no questions ready,” he said. “You gave me the notebook and made me sit down and write out a few questions. I’ve been using it for interviews ever since.”

I kept flipping through the book. I felt like I was about to cry.

It’s not the first time that I’ve been dumbstruck by the impact that an interaction I didn’t remember had on a student. Holy moly, teaching is a big responsibility, and then to take on the additional role as a coach for extracurriculars? To spend bus rides and plane trips and weekend work sessions and so many after school hours with teenagers—and to realize that anything you say, do, give, or decline might shape a future, whether that was the intended outcome or not?

I sighed.

“Hey, will you tell me when you run out of space in this? Send me a picture or something,” I said. It looked like there were about 20 pages left.

“Okay, if I remember,” Joe said. “Why?”

“Humor me,” I replied. “I want to give you your next one, too.”


The Conestoga adviser and I spent the bus ride home scheming about future field trip collaborations—a shared coach to Boston, perhaps? Our trip to State College was a long day, but it could not have gone better. The journey was full of connections, reconnections, and reminders that the exhaustion is worth it.

There was never really any uncertainty about whether I’d set my alarm. I’ll always show up for the early bus if it’s a journalism trip—heck, I’ll spend six months organizing that bus, and do it with a smile. I’m glad that we were able to add another successful field trip to our blog and our memories.

Here’s to new notebooks. Let’s keep filling the pages with good questions, rich details, and ordinary days that are better because we know how to point out: #thatsastory.