Katie Murphy Shawnee Mission East High School NSPA Writer of the Year Submission
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that Kansas is boring. They’re just looking in the wrong places.
Yes, I’d rather live in LA covering historic droughts or in New York City humanizing homelessness. Except, the people I care about are all here — smack dab in the middle of the U.S., milling around suburban Prairie Village, KS. A place that never really makes national headlines.
But I can't help noticing the things happening here.
Overworked students who are so tired from prepping for college applications that they nap in their car in the school parking lot before mustering up the energy to drive home. Parents who seemingly disappeared after getting COVID-19 and haven't been seen in years — untold long-term impacts of the pandemic. Teachers debating if they should be allowed to carry firearms in class. Students using artificial intelligence to cheat. All real things happening in my own backyard.
As a writer for my high school’s newspaper, The Harbinger, it’s my job to uncover and tell important stories in my community. Especially ones that have gone overlooked. As I walk the Columbia Blue halls of Shawnee Mission East, my ears are tuned in to conversations between students, teachers and administrators. I ask my lab partners and the person in the lunch line behind me what issues are on their mind and what's new in their lives. I read local papers and call the police station down the street to get the latest scoop. Every tidbit of intriguing information that I gather gets immediately added to a running list in my Notes app. From that jumble of 100+ ideas, my articles are born.
All my stories focus on local angles — I want the people at my school and in my neighborhood to want to read them, to see fresh perspectives and learn. I strive to relate national issues like gun violence and AI to my own community to engage my peers and begin conversations. Conversations that will hopefully lead to informed action and positive changes locally. And that’s my goal: bring to life the stories pulsing through my city to kindle improvements for my classmates and their families.
I've worked tirelessly to achieve this since joining staff two years ago, from conducting three-hour interviews to watching state championship tennis matches and everything in-between — striving for my readers to feel as though they've met the people in my stories. Hoping to turn my words into smiles. Laughter. Tears. Next year, I'll guide a 50-person staff to do the same as an Editor-In-Chief.
So sure, maybe I have to look harder for stories than student journalists in bustling cityscapes — but I enjoy the chase.
PIECE 1 (NEWS): Can't Unwind
This piece highlights the current sharp increase of student sleep deprivation due to evolving societal pressures. In an academically high-achieving school, I noticed the increasing number of students who are OK staying up until 2 a.m. daily to finish homework for their seven AP classes.
So I talked to the attendance secretary, who told me that, yes, being late to school for oversleeping has become a more prevalent issue. I found a senior who plays volleyball with 87 tardies and a truancy letter because she feels so pressured to stay up to succeed at both school and sports. A junior who smokes marijuana to stay awake in her first hour.
An epidemic of sleep deprivation, according to the sleep disorder specialist that I interviewed. But nobody had talked about it before this piece — they needed a story to spark discussion about changing the bell schedule and providing greater access to mental health resources to students.
NSPA Fall Clips and Clicks, Second Place News Writing
PIECE 2 (SPORTS FEATURE): Lucky Number
This is an in-depth account of the historical careers of two student athletes. When a pair of senior tennis players won their fourth straight state championship, everyone thought it was interesting. But since the players were shy and not the bragging type, few knew their full story. But I knew the dynamic doubles duo had to be more than just impressive statistics.
I got a list of every match they had played since freshman year from their coach, running through each tournament and listening to their untold stories — interviewing each player for three hours. I watched videos of them singing in the team van on the way home after their last state victory. Talked to their club coaches, parents, teammates, opponents, even an aunt and uncle.
The feature I wrote split the players' four years into bite-sized vignettes of memories, which made them cry while reading. It got thousands of views online, with even the professional Kansas state high school sports reporter commending my writing and reposting it on Twitter.
NSPA Fall Clips and Clicks, First Place Sports Writing
PIECE 3 (NEWS): Artificially Intelligent
This article focuses on artificial intelligence's effect on learning at my school. When adults started to speculate that new technology can be a dangerous tool for academic dishonesty, I decided that it was my job as a student journalist to find the truth. Is the average high school student using ChatGPT as a force for good or evil? Maybe the answer isn't such a surprise.
This piece surely started a conversation about the ethics and regulation of artificial intelligence in my school district and shed light on an issue that most adults would have no access to information about otherwise. I knew I had to write about this breaking topic to raise awareness on the local toll of a national issue and inform the community as new precedents in education are created.
NSPA Spring Clips and Clicks, Third Place News Writing
PIECE 4 (FEATURE): American Dreaming
This piece illustrates the inspiring path of a parent who became the first Hispanic EMT in my county after immigrating from Colombia and experiencing discrimination all too common to those who come to the U.S. for a better life. To Lieutenant Andres Borja, the American Dream is administering life-saving care to local people in order to provide for his family, even when it means experiencing harrowingly violent scenes weekly. He survived harsh culture shock during EMT school as the only non-white student and pushed through self-doubt to graduate with top honors as the first in his family to enter medicine.
Borja's story was unknown at my school before my article was published because his daughter is notably reserved. I was only tipped off about it when she quietly mentioned that her dad was an EMT in one of my classes. I'm so glad that I investigated and was able to share Borja's journey with my majority-white community to help raise cultural perspective.
NSPA Spring Clips and Clicks, Second Place Feature Writing
PIECE 5 (EDITORIAL): Teachers With Tacticals?
This editorial takes the national issue of arming teachers and boils it down to local impacts, arguing against giving teachers guns as a "safety" measure and for more practical solutions. I took on the responsibility of expressing our staff opinion on gun control in the classroom at a time when local conservative politicians were calling for our teachers to be armed. But it was important to speak up as young people to fight for what will ultimately keep us the most secure at school, even when it was an unpopular opinion with some adults.
This editorial sparked my love for writing opinion pieces, and shortly after it was published, I was awarded a Superior Rating in Editorial Writing at the Fall National Scholastic Press Association convention.
NSPA Fall Clips and Clicks, Third Place Editorial Writing
If The New York Times and Washington Post won’t cover Prairie Village, someone else has to. I hope my stories have painted a picture of my community that sparks interest and care — not just because it's where the Wizard of Oz was born.
Every place has a story. We just need to unearth and tell it. Thank you for your consideration.