Three educators who have shared their passion of scholastic journalism and press freedom with students nationwide have been recognized as recipients of National Scholastic Press Association Pioneer Awards.
Frank LoMonte, Tamra McCarthy and April van Buren will be recognized at the adviser awards luncheon at the Journalism Education Association/NSPA Fall National High School Journalism Convention, Nov. 12, in St. Louis.
The Pioneer is the highest honor NSPA awards to journalism educators. Pioneers are individuals who make substantial contributions to high school journalism programs and scholastic journalism education outside their primary employment.
“This year’s class of winners is unique in that we have two high school advisers as well as a former Student Press Law Center director to be honored,” Laura Widmer, NSPA executive director, said.
“They are all incredible educators, and they possess great teaching skills and a passion for student press rights,” she said. “They also have earned the respect and admiration of students and colleagues nationwide.
“These Pioneers represent the best in the country.”
NSPA maintains a composite plaque of all Pioneer winners at its headquarters in Minneapolis. Candidates were nominated by previous Pioneer winners and NSPA board members. A five-person selection committee ranked the nominees.
Although he didn’t have much scholastic press law experience when he started as director of the Student Press Law Center in 2008, it didn’t take Frank LoMonte long to become passionate about student press rights.
In his nomination letter, Mike Hiestand, SPLC senior counsel, said, “As anyone who has seen Frank talking about student press issues will attest, when he gets wound up he seems on the verge of bursting. He is a genuine force and, for well over a decade, has been a one-of-a-kind advocate for America’s student press.”
During his tenure, LoMonte launched a number of major programming initiatives, including the “New Voices” initiative. Today that project has grown to include a dedicated SPLC advocacy team and its work has, to date, resulted in the enactment of fortified legal protections for student journalists in 16 states.
Besides “New Voices,” LoMonte responded to the several thousand individual requests for legal help that poured into the SPLC Legal Hotline during his tenure. The legal help he provided ranged from quick phone calls to reviewing hundreds of articles prior to publication to drafting opinion letters and amicus briefs on some of the issues confronting student media to finding and supporting outside counsel in active litigation on behalf of student media.
He was especially known for his outside-the-box approaches and new ways to share the SPLC mission and message, Hiestand said.
LoMonte was the Energizer Bunny of student press rights — from working with lawyers across the country in developing one-of-a-kind Do-It-Yourself Legal Pleadings for appealing FOI denials to composing and commissioning a student choir to perform a theme song for the Tinker Tour, a bus tour for free speech.
LoMonte left SPLC in 2017 to join the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, at the University of Florida, and he now works as media-law counsel for CNN.
“Being the ‘general counsel’ for America’s high school and college newsrooms will always be the greatest honor of my life,” LoMonte said.
“I’m grateful for the brave and selfless educators who put their careers on the line every day to make journalism a meaningful opportunity for students to practice critical thinking and civic engagement.”
In her nomination letter, NSPA Pioneer Brenda Gorsuch said Tamra McCarthy is one of the icons of scholastic journalism and deserves to be recognized as an NSPA Pioneer.
“She is truly a national leader in scholastic journalism and an accomplished publications adviser — a real superstar. Her journalism program is a powerhouse and model for all of us,” Gorsuch said. “Tamra is most deserving of this recognition.”
McCarthy teaches at James C. Enochs High School, Modesto, California. Her yearbook, The Wingspan, has received a collective 23 NSPA Pacemaker and CSPA Crown awards, with a 12-year streak on both lists. The book has also been consistently recognized with CSPA Gold Medalist and NSPA All-American critiques since its inception.
McCarthy has also received numerous awards as a journalism educator, including being named a Journalism Education Association Rising Star in 2011, JEA Distinguished Adviser in 2013 and CSPA National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year Special Recognition Adviser 2021.
But, for McCarthy, it’s all about the students.
“Advising student journalists inspires, challenges and reminds me every day of what is truly important in this life,” she said, “and I am grateful to my students for the lessons I’ve learned from them on this journey,”
Paul Ender, Herff Jones consultant, said it has been such fun to watch McCarthy evolve as an adviser.
“She’s more involved than ever. She’s still as passionate and caring, but her knowledge base has grown exponentially,” Paul said. “She’s now more expert in all areas of the publications process, so naturally, her confidence as an adviser has followed suit. She’s been teaching summer workshops for years and has been on staff at the Gloria Shields workshop co-sponsored by NSPA for quite some time.”
McCarthy’s approach to teaching and advising has been well received by her students, and she cherishes that time with them, she said.
“While advising a student publication is time-consuming and often an unappreciated pursuit, being an adviser affords many opportunities to connect with kids that are not afforded in a regular classroom,” McCarthy said. “We travel together, make decisions together, create together, win together, cry together and deliver a product together that lives long after high school ends. It is through each of these experiences that I witness the amazing character, devotion, spirit and pride of each of my students.”
“There is also nothing more rewarding than watching my students discover who they are and what they want in life,” McCarthy said.
Ever since her first journalism class at age 15, April van Buren said, she has been working to share her love of scholastic journalism with students and staff. She said she gained so much from this community that she found ways along her career to serve the field and to help newer advisers on their teaching path.
In her nomination letter, JEA mentor Linda Barrington said, “If I had to sum up April in one word, it would be service to others. I have personally experienced her generosity of time and talent, but so have a raft of other advisers.”
Van Buren’s teaching journey has taken her from Missouri to New Mexico and now to Wisconsin, at Madison East High School, where she teaches the school’s TV show (the advanced broadcast class), as well as advises the school yearbook. She started the Newspaper and Photography Club before the pandemic and is working to create a journalism program and sequence of study within her district. In the meantime, her club members are starting to bring back online updates to EHS Tower Media.
Van Buren sponsors the Digital Art Club and is a member of the Information Communication and Technology Pathway team. April is also a board member for the Wisconsin Journalism Education Association and continues on the board of the Kettle Moraine Press Association, which serves scholastic journalism in Wisconsin and Illinois. She also joined the JEA Contests Committee as Quiz Bowl director for several years and then moved on to help with the JEA broadcast contests before passing the torch in the spring 2022.
Matt Schott, of Francis Howell Central High School, St. Charles, Missouri, said van Buren’s makes exceptional connections with her students.
“In the 12-plus years I’ve known April, what stands out most about her to me is her ability to connect with those students who truly need connection,” he said. “She has this gift to be able to find those students who may be quiet, have different interests or experiences, and she is able to celebrate those students, provide them with a platform not only to accelerate their learning but to make their learning experience stronger and better because of their unique qualities.”
Nancy Smith, at Lafayette High School, Wildwood, Missouri, praised van Buren’s energy and enthusiasm.
“April is also just fun to be around. She is a giver. She has a horrible habit of saying yes. She will do anything to make someone else’s job easier,” Smith said.
“She is the epitome of the stereotypical librarian who winds up doing more research for a project than the kiddo who originally asked for her help. If you were on a plane with April and the air masks dropped, against all guidelines, she would help you with your mask before putting on her own. That is how she is with the journalism community as well. She is a giver.”
Van Buren said the No. 1 reason she is a teacher is because of her love for teaching journalism:
“At the high school level, I’ve seen how writing, photographing, filming and more for a real-world audience helps students gain confidence, think critically, take ownership of their learning, and learn how to navigate a variety of social connections professionally.”