Mundelein High School

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MHS newspaper, yearbook staffs win awards for 2020-21

The printed version of the MHS yearbook stands next to a computer showing the school's digital newspaper.
The MHS newspaper and yearbook staffs both earned significant awards for their work during the 2020-21 school year.

Mundelein High School’s yearbook staff followed in the footsteps of its award-winning newspaper staff this month, receiving top honors in the Illinois Journalism Education Association (IJEA) contest.

The award, given to the last year’s yearbook staff on Feb. 1, follows the second place International Award presented in the fall to last year’s newspaper staff for Quill & Scroll’s 2021 News Media Evaluation.

The 2020-21 yearbook, “The Obelisk,” earned awards in eight out of nine categories in the IJEA Division 5 Yearbook Contest, taking second place in the category of “Overall General Excellence.”

“All these awards are quite the accomplishment for both journalism staffs given all the creative solutions they had to implement last year during the COVID-19 pandemic remote and hybrid learning,” said Michelle Didzbalis, adviser to both the student-produced newspaper and the yearbook. “They never lost their visions or passions for telling the stories of the year no matter what that year looked like.”

The 2020-21 MHS newspaper, “The Mustang,” was the only high school paper in the state to receive an International Award from Quill & Scroll. The staff received an excellence rating for its general journalism practices and a rating of good in the categories of “Writing & Editing,” “Visuals” and “Digital.” This was the first year the newspaper staff entered the contest for a comprehensive review of its online presence since the staff did not produce print editions given the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Mustang Co-Editor-in-Chief Tress Dorfler (Class of ‘22) appreciated the professional critique from those experienced in the field of journalism, calling it one of the best opportunities a student staff can have.

“I’m very grateful for the chance to improve and proud of my peers and me for placing second in [an international competition,]” Dorfler said. 

Given the inability to publish print issues last year, the staff focused on online platforms, explained Mustang Co-Editor-in-Chief Ashley Cline (Class of ‘22). This included an Instagram account (@mhsnewseditors) and emphasizing the publication’s website.

“Although we have returned to being a hybrid publication, the improvements we made last year will leave a positive impact on the program moving forward,” Cline said. 

The yearbook staff received first places in the “Divider Pages,” “Best Use of Photography” and the “Copy Writing” categories. Additionally, the yearbook staff received third place in “Sports Coverage” and “Coverage of the Year” categories. Finally, the yearbook staff took honorable mentions in the “Graphics” and “Theme Development” categories.

Yearbook Editor-in-Chief Avery Refka (Class of ‘22) said she wasn’t sure at the time if the staff would be able to create a yearbook during a virtual school year. But she knew it was important to try to make the yearbook a success while working completely from home.

“That’s what last year was all about,” she said. “Brainstorming ways to make the book a success despite the world's circumstances. 

“One of our mottos was ‘Tell the story of the year no matter what that story looks like,’ and I definitely think that’s what the book shows,” Refka said. “It’s times like last year that really show you what can happen when you push through challenges, which is why I love the journalism program at MHS; perseverance and problem-solving are huge strengths that can be both positive impacts and takeaways from last year. I’m really proud of the staff's dedication and the final product.”

Yearbook Sports Editor Brianna Richards (Class of ‘22) credited staff members for being able to get out of their friend bubble and reach out to people who typically would have strayed from being in the yearbook.

“We relied heavily on parents, students, staff members and Visual Image Photography to get us pictures to get as much coverage as possible,” Richards said. “Yet, the staff remained positive during many stressful moments, such as a shortage of pictures, people not answering emails for interviews and many student activities not running. The goal for every yearbook is to capture the year in a book, and our 2020-2021 yearbook covered it perfectly."

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