The Accolade, Helios recognized as finalists for national journalism award


Image used with permission from Lindsay Safe

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association recognized Helios for its 2021-2022 yearbook titled “It’s Time. We’re Ready, Are You?” as a Crown finalist Dec. 14, 2022. The organization nominated both the yearbook program and The Accolade as Crown finalists and plans to announce the Gold Crown winners at the New York Convention March 15-17.

Four could become The Accolade’s favorite number if it ends up earning a Gold Crown from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association [CSPA] next month at an awards ceremony in New York. 

The journalism program previously earned three Silver Crowns for its issues submitted in 2006, 2019 and 2021. This time around, Accolade adviser and English teacher Tommy Li hopes to break the streak when Gold and Silver Crown winners are announced at the CSPA journalism convention on March 17 at the Columbia University campus. 

“That’s St. Patrick’s Day, so hopefully luck will be on our side,” Li said. “But no matter what, I’m proud of last year’s staff and the Journalism 1 students who helped produce the issues we submitted for judging last summer.” 

Li learned of the publication’s Crown nomination through a Dec. 14, 2022, Twitter post and then showed it to the staff the same day during fourth period. 

“Our staff was really excited as Mr. Li scrolled down the alphabetically listed nominee list on the smart board,” news editor junior Susie Kim said. “I was sitting in the front row as we all witnessed the announcement together and felt relieved knowing that we’d have another chance at winning a Gold Crown.” 

Li said he submitted seven issues from the 2021-2022 school year for judging, including the November and April cub issues that the Journalism 1 class helps to produce. Those issues will compete against submissions from 41 other school publications nationwide under the “High School Hybrid News” category with 11 coming from California — The Accolade being the only finalist from Orange County. 

Last year’s editor-in-chief [EIC] Michelle Sheen said the first year of the return to in-person instruction presented itself as a struggle for her and her staff. 

“It sort of felt like a test year as people were still getting used to the environment and the culture of The Accolade newsroom and getting to know how things worked,” Sheen said. “I feel like it was unprecedented and a new challenge.”

The former EIC acknowledged that the program couldn’t have achieved such accomplishments without the grit and perseverance of her peers. 

“I feel like people being able to pull through [was a big factor], since creating a full print issue is all about teamwork,” Sheen said. “If we didn’t have people willing to write stories, stay late at night to edit their stories and create layouts, we wouldn’t have been able to produce eight full issues during the school year.”

Last year’s web-EIC, Kristima Aryal, said she found out about the announcement when this year’s EIC, senior Kate Yang, texted a group chat with Aryal and Sheen about the program’s nomination. 

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is such a great surprise’ because I was so in the college landscape I haven’t thought about The Accolade,” Aryal said. “To see that all the hard work that Michelle and all the section editors put in got recognition was super exciting to see.” 

The then-senior agreed with Sheen about the challenges they faced and emphasized the importance of perfecting the website and its visual aspects. 

“The top editors and I really wanted to focus on making the website more visual,” she said. “We created a new header and a more cohesive color scheme, which helped the website look more professional, and we worked hard to promote all of our stories to stay engaged with our audience.”

While The Accolade celebrates its fourth nomination, Helios awaits its second consecutive Gold Crown in the “Print Yearbook” category. 

“I was in my third period class, and [the nominations] were being announced on Twitter every two minutes,” Helios adviser Lindsay Safe said about the Dec. 15 posts. “As the letters got closer to us, it was nerve-racking, but when we came up, I just started screaming and was very excited.” 

The yearbook staff experienced the same issue as The Accolade in terms of adjusting to in-person instruction. 

“I was really proud of our kids coming back from [the COVID-19 pandemic] and from being at home,” Safe said. “We started working in teams last year and that can be a blessing or a curse sometimes, but I think for us, teamwork really blossomed, and it’s been fun to watch.”

After seeing the Twitter announcement, Safe said she went to Crumbl Cookies during her fourth period and bought cookies to celebrate with her staff in the following period. 

“It was kind of funny because everyone in the class ended up only getting an eighth of a cookie,” Helios coverage editor junior Tiffany Elnitiarta said. “The new staffers were a bit confused but all of the returning editors were really excited and happy.” 

Last year’s Helios co-EIC Joyce Pau heard of the accomplishment through a text message from Elnitiarta, and the former staff member hopes the best for the 2022-2023 yearbook staff.

“Getting an award is definitely always a great thing, especially being recognized nationally by a very prestigious association,” Pau said. “Our goal was to make sure we get a good enough yearbook the student body would be pleased with, but to get an award really is an icing on top.”