The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

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The Accolade nominated for Columbia Scholastic Press Association national journalism award for a third time

Columbia Scholastic Press Association
The Columbia Scholastic Press Association posted this announcement in its Twitter feed Dec. 14, recognizing The Accolade as a Crown finalist. In the post, it features the newspaper’s April 30 issue cover titled, “Stop Asian Hate.”

This story was updated March 8 with new information about the virtual awards ceremony.

The third time could be the charm for The Accolade school newspaper when it comes to the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s Crown [CSPA] awards program, which recognizes excellence in journalism coverage among publications nationwide.

The Sunny Hills newspaper was awarded a Silver Crown in 2006 and again in 2020 under the supervision of English and journalism teacher Tommy Li.

“Winning a Gold Crown is the ultimate prize,” Li said. “Only a select group gets nominated for either a Silver or Gold Crown, and from those nominees, only a few each year are recognized with such a prestigious honor – it doesn’t mean winning a Silver Crown is worthless; like with the Olympics, all who compete want that gold medal but are still content with a silver or a bronze.”

Li and The Accolade staff found out about the program’s third Crown nomination through the CSPA’s Twitter post Dec. 14, the first day of final exam week last semester.

“Usually, the CSPA announces its nominees in October, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t able to do so until last month,” he said. “Even though we’re honored to be recognized, it’s unfortunate we weren’t able to celebrate this nomination as a class until a few days later when we met during the fifth period final exam day.”

According to the CSPA’s news release, The Accolade was among 817 publications eligible for judging and the only one in Orange County to receive a Crown nomination. It’s unknown whether any other Orange County journalism programs submitted their work for Crown consideration though.

The Accolade will compete against 36 other nominees – two of which are also from Southern California in Los Angeles County – for a Gold Crown under the “High School Hybrid News” category, which means the journalism program publishes a newspaper and posts some of those stories on an online news website.

During Crown consideration, publications are judged on their excellence as shown by their design, photography, concept, coverage and writing,” according to the CSPA’s online website. “This year the judges were sensitive to the challenges COVID-19 raised to student publications. 

“The judges read the membership profiles and learned of the obstacles and alternative tasks staffs chose to follow to publish their publications. … They rose to the challenge and flourished for their communities.”

Gold and Silver Crown winners would have been announced during the CSPA’s spring national journalism convention at Columbia University in New York from March 16-18, but CSPA officials have opted to cancel the event because of the coronavirus pandemic. A virtual awards presentation will be made available sometime in March 2022.


The Accolade’s CSPA Crown nomination follows another one from the National Scholastic Press Association [NSPA] last October when PDF issues from the 2020-2021 school year were nominated for a Pacemaker award. Even though The Accolade didn’t win its second Pacemaker, the NSPA still sent the publication a Pacemaker nominee plaque, which arrived last week.

This is also only the second time in school history that the journalism program was recognized for an award by both national journalism programs in one school year – the last time being 2005-2006 when The Accolade won its first Pacemaker and first Silver Crown.

In the CSPA and NSPA award nomination announcements this school year, The Accolade’s April 30, 2021, cover titled, “Stop Asian Hate,” was featured.

The 2020-2021 editor-in-chief [EIC], Tyler Pak, said after studying other award-winning student publications and receiving feedback from an NSPA critique, he made it his goal to develop a special section in each Accolade issue that reports on more meaningful topics even if they were harder to cover or may be considered controversial.

“This [‘Stop Asian Hate’] issue and the recognition we received are proof that we were justified in our goal,” Pak said. “I hope seeing that our efforts are being recognized will encourage future Accoladians to continue covering meaningful topics despite the hardships.”

Looking forward, Pak said he is excited to see that The Accolade is continuing his goal based on issues he has read this school year. 

“I feel proud that The Accolade is continuing to head in the right direction,” said the freshman majoring in journalism at USC. “Hopefully, every year we’ll continue to improve until we become the undisputed best high school journalism program in the country.” 

Besides the April issue, which also featured articles written by Li’s Journalism 1 students, the journalism adviser said he submitted for CSPA judging the school year’s previous ones dating back to the first produced as a PDF file Oct. 30, 2020, which featured a special section on the presidential elections.

Elijah Jhee, last school year’s Accolade managing editor, said the “Stop Asian Hate” special section was important since it provided information about what was happening in Asian communities locally, statewide and nationwide for SH readers – nearly 30% of which are of Asian descent.  

“After being nominated for a Pacemaker, the fact that we also are in the finalist running for a CSPA crown is a really high achievement that I know the staff is proud of,” said Jhee, who also attends USC as a cognitive science major in the pre-med track. “This specific issue was a really powerful and special one because Asian hate was such a relatable and recognizable issue that our staff and school could get behind.”

Last year’s goal of covering more controversial topics began with the Feb. 19 issue titled “Broken Boundaries,” which addressed how the Fullerton Joint Union High School District and Sunny Hills administrators handle sexual harassment claims, especially in light of online student petitions over the summer of 2020 demanding that district officials take more action to address this problem.

Student editors worked on an agreement with SH officials to start each “Broken Boundaries” story with a disclaimer to prevent readers from barraging administrators with questions or concerns; the disclaimer instead encouraged readers to email The Accolade with their comments instead. 

Last year’s special sections editor, Hannah Kim, said she proceeded cautiously to ensure she and her reporters demonstrated responsible journalistic ethics and reporting while producing each issue.

“I think a lot more of our student body connected with this [‘Stop Asian Hate’] section particularly, and I think that’s what made it so special,” said Kim, a freshman at the University of Washington pursuing a pre-health sciences major. 

This year’s Accolade EIC, senior Michelle Sheen, hopes the current Accolade staff can motivate themselves to orchestrate the same level of quality in issues, which will be sent for judging at the end of this school year.

“I think we have a lot of work to do in order to meet the standard that the staff [set] from last year, but I think we’re doing good so far, and I’m excited to see what the outcome will be,” Sheen said. “I hope to continue encouraging the staff to cover the most pressing issues — ones that our readers will be more interested in hearing about.

“Our upcoming issue on the rampant spread of the Omicron variant is an example of that.”


This year’s special sections editor, senior Krishna Thaker, said all Accolade honors have helped her when creating a resume and applying to colleges.

“It is really good to get recognized for all your hard work, and I think it’s great that The Accolade is able to get so much national recognition,” said Thaker, who mentioned this recognition along with her Best of SNO awards on her college applications. The Accolade’s online news website uses Student Newspapers Online [SNO] as its host server, and SNO also offers recognition for online articles that are posted. 

Li said he hopes this award-winning season will attract more students to enroll in the fourth period Journalism 1 class, especially as his goal is to continue to expand The Accolade’s online news website with more podcast and video content.

“Everyone likes a winner, and I am very proud of the 2020-2021 staff for their efforts while many of them remained at home during hybrid learning,” said the instructor, who’s advised The Accolade for more than a decade. “So I hope what we’ve done will bring more students who would want to join not only an Orange County, but also a nationally recognized award-winning program.” 

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About the Contributor
Divya Bharadwaj
Divya Bharadwaj, Feature Editor
As The Accolade’s feature editor, senior Divya Bharadwaj looks forward to covering unique stories around the campus. Aside from being on The Accolade staff, Bharadwaj is involved with multiple clubs at school including Future Medical Professionals, International Baccalaureate [IB] Council and Model United Nations, in addition to the IB program. Her hobbies include managing her lip balm business Didi Balms, writing for her personal travel blog Divya Wanders, reading and playing with her dog.
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