The Accolade: We’ve still got issues planned during distance learning; meanwhile, check us out online during this historic COVID-19 period

Tyler Pak

This past school year, The Accolade has truly lived up to its namesake. 

In previous years with our print issues, we’ve traveled down a two-year win streak of taking the Best High School Newspaper title from the Southern California Journalism Awards sponsored by the Los Angeles Press Club (we’ve been named a finalist in this category for four years in a row and will find out Aug. 29 if we will get back our lost title).

More recently, last spring during school closure, The Accolade staff found out from watching a virtual awards ceremony that our issues from the 2018-2019 school year earned a Silver Crown national plaque from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association — the first Accolade staff to receive such an honor since 2005.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that our plans to continue this legacy of excellence would come to a screeching halt.

Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated on July 17 that all schools within counties on California’s coronavirus watchlist will not be allowed to return to in-person schooling — a criteria that Sunny Hills High School falls within.

Our return to campus this school year may not happen until after Labor Day since local media have reported that Orange County has been officially off the watchlist as of Saturday, Aug. 22. Orange County will have to remain off this list for 14 consecutive days before schools are allowed to be open for classroom instruction.

Meanwhile, we’ve been forced to focus all of our attention on our website, a platform on which we only have three years of experience. 

Our inability to return to school also means that we will not have access to the materials necessary to produce physical issues of The Accolade. Usually when we create an issue, we have access to school computers with essential Adobe Creative Cloud software, the Accolade classroom to work after school and most importantly: each other. 

Distance learning has made it more challenging to maintain consistent accessibility to these resources. 

Yes, I agree that it’s not worth the risk for students to return to school a few weeks ago, but I still felt disheartened; this was the year I had been waiting for — my year as editor-in-chief to sit in the driver’s seat and continue to expand our tradition of excellence. 

Although I would still have the ability to work on our website, it would be almost impossible for me to carry out my vision for our paper and continue our excellence in that medium.

However, a famous mantra about our craft from Philip Graham, a former co-owner of The Washington Post, comes to mind.

“Journalism is the first rough draft of history,” said Graham, who was reportedly addressing a group of Newsweek magazine overseas correspondents in London in April 1963.

Just because we’re not physically in school does not mean history has slammed on the brakes. Rather, we as journalists must switch over to the fast lane to keep up with history.

This pandemic might surprise us and steer us out of our comfort zone, but that just provides another opportunity to write extraordinary stories. When in-person learning was canceled in mid-March of the spring 2019-2020 school year, we got a taste of this phenomenon, which has greatly prepared us for the road ahead. 

This will not be a typical year of sports games, dances and assemblies. Rather, we have the chance to record how different life is during this pandemic for our community and future Sunny Hills students.

Our inability to publish our stories in print is an opportunity to improve our website and experiment with expanding our online presence in ways we weren’t able to do before. Before, it was difficult to focus on driving in two different lanes — online and print journalism; now, the road sign we’re faced with reads, “ONE WAY.”

This year, we plan on making Twitter accounts for each Accolade section to increase our social media presence as well as starting a podcast for our readers who prefer listening to their news over reading it. 

If you don’t have a Twitter account, I highly recommend that you create one and follow us. This year, news will be traveling at a dangerous speed, and we will do our best to track it, report it and keep you up-to-date.

If you have anything you would like us to cover or anything you would like to find out more about, you can email the Accolade at [email protected].

If the coronavirus pandemic will not allow us to publish a print issue for distribution to our students on campus, we will publish a PDF version of our special November elections issue and make it available for viewing on our website as well as the Sunny Hills one.

And we do hope to continue printing our monthly issues as soon as we can safely return to school, but by the time we do, The Accolade will be much more than it is now.

So join us for the ride. This year will be far from predictable — that’s what makes it even more exciting for me, and I hope for our readers, too.