Strath Haven High School yearbook staff members Bailey Hansen, Charlotte Horetsky, Joyce Huang, Marin Lent, and Kai Lincke hit the road before sunrise on March 30 to travel to Penn State for the PSPA Student Journalism State Finals.
The yearbook staff members qualified to compete in State College after ranking as state finalists after virtual regional competitions in early November 2021.
The staff spent the day competing in photography, copywriting, and caption writing competitions and touring the new Donald Bellisario College of Communications building. Students got an up-close look at the newspaper, radio and TV stations before ending the day with Penn State Creamery ice cream to celebrate sophomores Bailey Hansen’s and Charlotte Horetsky’s third-place finishes in copywriting and caption writing. Photographers Kai Lincke and Joyce Huang are currently awaiting the results.
Read our team’s reflections on the day below.
Bailey Hansen '24
It was early in the morning, with no sunlight to be seen. Only the cool crisp air and the sound of my own mind. I was thoroughly exhausted. Yet, I arose, began my daily routine, and prepared myself for a long ride to Penn State University. Making my way to the school was no real issue, and time flew by quickly after everyone got on the bus heading toward Penn State. Many naps were taken, and I enjoyed my little thirty-minute nap.
Bam! The bus was hit by a car along the side of College Avenue.
After a tense recovery and some problem-solving, we proceeded with caution toward the university and were soon seated in a large, quiet, bright room. Many schools had come and all had come with the hope of one thing. First Place!! Or at least that was my goal. I could feel my head spinning with excitement. Ready to begin a quiet calm competition.
Soon a press conference began, and the little noise that had been filling the room stopped. All we could hear were the voices of the representatives for Penn States’ homecoming committee. Writing! Scribbling! Reaching for anything important that could be heard!
After all the writing and talking and noise had stopped, we were escorted to room 129. And that’s where the competition began.
We had an hour. I finished before then.
After that, I spent a solid 30 minutes waiting for my teacher to get back from the back of a police car. She needed to file a report.
Lunch finally happened, but I forgot to bring my card and they didn’t accept cash so Ms.Plows bought my lunch. The fruit bowl was fantastic. Next, we scrambled on our feet toward the Bellisario College of Communications. There we learned about the intriguing programs offered at Penn State. Again, all were very interesting and intriguing.
Last But Not Least! THE AWARDS!!!
I didn’t win, but the day had been well worth the loss.
We finished the day with ice cream to celebrate our accomplishments — which hadn’t been so much of an accomplishment in my case.
Charlotte Horetsky '24
The night before traveling to compete in the PSPA finals, I just couldn’t fall asleep fast enough—I was so nervous. Naturally, the next morning, when the alarm clock went off at 5:20 am, it took me a moment to realize just what exactly I was doing, waking up a full hour before I usually did, on a Wednesday, for that matter.
After remembering the purpose behind the time, the morning flew by quickly. Reading on the van-bus, for both drives, definitely presented the illusion of a shortened ride, for my concentration was on the story, and not the contest.
Before I knew it, the check-in had been completed, and the press conference was over, leaving me to sit at a table and write 5 captions in about an hour.
At one point, my pencil was flying across the piece of provided notebook paper so fast that I later wondered if the judges could even read my fast-written handwriting. Fortunately, they could, and my captions were truly my best work, within the time constraints, of course.
When placing the now-finished captions into the envelope, I wondered if, but mostly doubted that, I would actually win.
As it turned out, I placed third—which is, frankly, surprising, yet gratifying. PSPA has some tough judges, which is great, so the fact that I was able to score a 30 out of 36 and place third, is something that I truly marvel at.
The entire day was astounding—from the tour of Bellisario College to the Raspberry Fudge Torte Creamery ice cream—the experience will last a lifetime, and is one that I am simply elated that I was fortunate enough to participate in.
Joyce Huang '22
With my Wawa Mocha Iced Coffee in my left hand and my phone in my right, I stared intensively at the digital display of a vehicle driving down my road. The words read from “two minutes away” to “one minute away”. A black vehicle slowly emerged from the darkness, and my Uber driver Blair had greeted me with a warm smile as I settled myself. It was only 5:45 am and I was already on my way to school, not what I would expect on a typical Wednesday morning.
Despite the awfully cold weather and unusual “van” provided to our yearbook staff, the four-hour ride was quite enjoyable. The music was blasting and I caught up on some reading. Seeing the different landmarks at various parts of our road trip brought up memories from my campus visit back in October of 2021. Here I was again, heading towards my dream school.
Upon arrival, we did bump into a bit of an accident, but thankfully we entered on time for the PSPA finals. Going into my very first and likely last high school Journalism competition, I was nervous all over. Taking photos had just been a hobby of mine, but here is where my shots turned out really counted! I was a complete nervous wreck, but my mind flashed back to my freshman year’s Visual Communications class, where Ms. Plows had taught me the photo composition guidelines. Remember depth of field, rule of thirds, repetition, framing, and leading lines. You got this!
Not having much experience with simultaneously collecting information and taking photos, I couldn’t have approached this in any worse way. At the time, it felt like I was doing a fantastic job: jotting down quotes and interesting information in a notepad beside me while also taking photos. Ideally this method would have been great, had I written legibly and not labeled the speakers as “headband”, “blonde”, and “middle”. Quite an experience during the caption writing process having to ask Kai and Ms. Plows for information. Needless to say, I’ll definitely be taking a different approach in the future.
My favorite part of the day had to be the tour! Seeing all the different equipment and opportunities offered to Bellisario College of Communication students, almost threw me into an internal crisis. I’m a future Penn Stater and originally intended on majoring in marketing with a minor in photography, but doing this competition really opened up some new doors for me to consider.
The news studios are a must-see! I was so shocked at everything in the room: the big crazy cameras, the green screen for weather reports, the professional news desk, the sound system, and there was so much more I can’t even recall! If you ever get a chance, I would definitely recommend you tour their new Bellisario building.
Overall, I had a great experience participating in the PSPA finals and though it may have been my last, I’m so excited to continue discovering the possibilities beyond just the snip bit that was introduced to me by this competition! It was amazing being able to participate with so many talented students and step out of my comfort zone when it came to photography!
Marin Lent '22
This journalism convention was my second and last convention that I have attended in my high school career. Going into the day, I wasn’t expecting to get anything out of it since I wasn’t competing like my friends on my yearbook staff. I was very wrong.
We started off the morning at the very early time of six and drove to Penn State main campus. Of course, I took my daily nap on the way there as Ms.Plows was blasting 80s music.
Pulling into the campus, we heard a loud BANG. Someone hit our van with their door (this is very important to the rest of my story).
Ms. Plows shakily parked the van in the stadium parking lot while the rest of our crew registered for the competition.
The first event was a press conference with the board of executives for the Penn State homecoming. It was so awesome hearing about how important homecoming was to them, and I got to learn about the dedication to student life and inclusion at Penn State.
While my friends started their competition, Ms. Plows and I met up with one of her old students from Malvern Prep. We talked about the yearbook and the school newspaper with him, along with sharing old memories that he had from his time in high school.
Here’s where the fun began…
Ms. Plows told me she had to file a police report about the accident and asked if I wanted to come with her. Excitedly, I said of course, and followed her into a cop car. This was the first time I’ve been in a police car, and I will surely never forget it.
The rest of the day was definitely more relaxing as we went on a tour of the new Bellisario School of Communications. It is crazy how many opportunities that the students at Penn State have to participate in the school. We got to see two broadcasting studios and I got to live out my fifth grade dream of standing in front of a green screen (don’t ask).
Closing out the day, we went to the famous Creamer and got the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
Being with so many journalists, I am reminded how much I love the community that they’ve created. I’m so thankful for my mom and Ms. Plows changing my mind about my major and that I’m switching to journalism. Can’t wait for all of you to see me in 10 years as a billionaire with my journalism degree!
Thank you to Ms.Plows for once again organizing such an amazing field trip for my friends and me. As always, go bananas!
Kai Lincke '22
I glanced toward the clock as my dad opened the shade, letting fragments of moonlight slip through the window into my bedroom. The digits read 5:00. The sky was still pitch black. It was too dark out. Too early to wake up.
After rolling over and falling back to sleep three or four times, I finally sat up. I was exhausted. But somehow, I already felt awake.
As I got ready for the day, I began to remember why I was up so early. As I peered into the mirror, my tired eyes glistened with excitement. I eagerly put on my Haven Yearbook t-shirt and I proudly pulled up my “America Needs Journalists” socks. I took a deep breath and was ready to start the day.
As we rolled into the parking lot, we met our ride for the day: a bright yellow school “van” parked outside the front of the building. But, since we’re talking about a journalism conference/competition, let’s get the facts straight: this was no van. This was a minibus. And somehow Ms. Plows was going to drive it.
I climbed into the van-bus and greeted my fellow Yearbookers. Four bleary smiles replied to my “good morning, suckers!” Ms. Plows joined us five minutes later, cueing up the music and preparing for the long drive to State College.
We were on the road before sunrise. Ms. Plows did an amazing job driving. Everyone fell asleep or fell into their own little world, but Ms. Plows drove on through freezing rain, snow, and really tight roads. We were driving up College Road—literally thirty seconds from our destination—when we heard a snap and realized that someone had pushed their door out into our van-bus. Now, there’s a story.
The rest of the day passed in a flash. We got to listen to a really interesting press conference about the student-led homecoming proceedings at Penn State. It made me proud to see student voices leading the charge. I loved sitting in on it with other student journalists. I crawled to the front with my camera and phone recording app to get the best view. No one even noticed—in fact, many other students were doing the same thing. It was a really cool feeling to look around and realize that getting up close to the action was normal— even expected— in this environment.
I love these conventions because everyone shares my passion for storytelling. Everyone else understands the significance and urgency of storytelling, and looking deeper to find the full story. I got to be in the same room as some absolute journalism rockstars. As always, I am so impressed by The Spoke. I got to speak with a few of their editors and their editors-in-chief (major fangirl moment). I got to spend the day with other students who spoke my language and used the same equipment. It was so cool!!
I’m so grateful that Ms. Plows brings us to these events and opens the door to this world for us. Honestly, the things she does for us kids. She carried my heavy (fine, I’ll admit it) backpack all around campus so I could take photos without upsetting my back injury. She drove over six hours roundtrip to Penn State. She encouraged us to ask thoughtful questions about the things we saw during the trip. And, she brought us to the creamery after the competition to get some world-famous (yes, look it up!) Penn State Creamery ice cream. It was an amazing way to end an amazing day.
In this blog post, I haven’t devoted many words to the actual competition. For me, this trip was more about the people: the friendly Bellisario College students and staff; the passionate PSPA leaders; the dozens of other Pennsylvania journalism students with a similar appreciation for storytelling; and, most importantly, my Haven Yearbook crew. It was a long day, but I didn’t notice. I was too busy laughing about Marin and Ms. Plows’ cop car experience, discussing cool photo opportunities with Joyce, and discussing prom with the other seniors (we are so ready to document any promposals. Please.)
This was the type of day where you come home exhausted, ready to collapse, but simultaneously happy, fulfilled, and reinvigorated with a new passion for storytelling. I was really tired, but a good tired. I was also really excited. I got to see our underclassmen begin to share our passion. They both placed third in the state, which is amazing by itself, but even cooler because they’re sophomores. I’m so proud of them. I’m so proud of my team!
It didn’t even hit me until we were on the van-bus that this was likely my last high school journalism competition/convention. I’m so sad to leave a community where I was just beginning to feel at home. But, I know: wherever I go, I can always find others who share my passion. Our stories are what bring us together. I feel so lucky to have found a community dedicated to telling them.
As expected, our yearbook staffers did a solid job of covering the bus/van incident in State College, so I’ll leave that story to their retelling. (Was this really the highlight of their day?!)
What I would like to share about our trip to PSPA SJC Finals—my first trip to this event since 2018 and the first time I’ve been lucky enough to take students from my current school—is that it was a joy to travel with our Haven Yearbook staff of winners.
Well before we boarded the bus/van, I explained to all of the students that they had already won before their decision to travel to State College for the competition. They were winners for volunteering to participate in the competition, based only on a post in the ‘opportunities’ section of our Classroom feed. They were winners for putting in so, so many extracurricular hours on the yearbook team, where the rewards consist of team camaraderie, unlimited candy, and silly bandz instead of A’s and trophies. They were—and are—winners for their fierce determination to tell our school’s story.
Because I’ve taken enough of these trips with students to know the difference, because it matters so much to acknowledge and repeat it: These students made me want to organize more field trips for our yearbook team. Students were cheerful at six a.m. and they offered to help me navigate. They acknowledged that it was a little bit scary to drive a big bus/van, and they cheered me on. The seniors were leaders, setting an example for the underclassmen in how to navigate independence at a university. They participated fully in the PSPA events—distraction wasn’t even an option. They were respectful to (and maybe a little awestruck by) the other student journalists they met.
They let me buy them ice cream without argument, and they said thank you many times when the day was through. And I barely had to bug them to get these blog posts turned in within a week!
They gave the day at PSPA their all, just like they give our yearbook challenges their all, despite all the odds of limited time, resources, and training that often feel stacked against us.
“You’re like, some sort of celebrity,” one staffer said as I got my tenth-or-so hug of the day. It was also a joy to reconnect with PSPA colleagues whom I haven’t seen since leaving the board in 2020. Putting the PSPA finals together is a herculean effort, one best suited for educators who already put in herculean hours to support student journalists often on their own time and dime. I have so much respect for this dogged crew, and I hope that someday I’ll feel capable of joining them again.
Parts of the day left me feeling conflicted. After lunch, student representatives from two schools that are engaged in lobbying for New Voices legislation spent time meeting individually with many of the groups in attendance. I’m still uncertain about New Voices for many reasons, some of which I may or may not have blurted out to our yearbook staff on the van/bus ride home. The winners’ list consists of students from only six schools. There are over 1,400 high schools in Pennsylvania; 83 are currently listed as members on the PSPA site. That’s striking when you consider that nearly every school has a yearbook. Why aren’t the rest of our schools in Pennsylvania engaged in PSPA? What is the state of journalism education in the Commonwealth? Does anyone know?
I had lots of time to think about these issues as our students slept hard on the ride home, bellies filled with ice cream and exhausted from the journey.
But I’m choosing to focus on the positive memories from the day. Reconnecting with a journalism alum whom I’ve known since he was in sixth grade. Proudly watching Joyce and Kai take so, so many photos. All of those hugs and reconnections with people I deeply respect. The transportation director’s warm nod and laughter as I pulled into the lot, easing my worry from our College Avenue incident.
Yes, I’ll journey with this group of winners any day. We’ve still got a big in-house journey together until the end of the year as we work to finish up this book. It’s good to have winning travel companions.