Advisor Kyle LoJacono, back row, with six of the Blue & White seniors — middle row (l.-r.)Vlada Pitner, Taryn Bartley and Payton Kenny, and front row (l.-r.) Taylor Kaliszewski, Callie Zack and Allie Massey. (Photo courtesy of Kyle LoJacono)

Callie Zack knew this past year would be a tricky one when it came to putting out Wharton High’s school newspaper, the Blue & White.

The onset of Covid-19 practically wiped out the last quarter of 2020, where journalism students generally learn page design, so many new staff members had some catching up to do. Callie’s two associate editors, Allie Massey and Taryn Bartley, would be doing e-learning while she was at school, so teamwork was paramount. And, her ability to pull it all together, as a third of the staff would be learning from home as well, was going to test her organizational skills.

However, Callie and Co. passed the test with flying colors. In May, the American Scholastic Press Association (ASPA) named the Blue & White the best high school newspaper in the country.

More than 90 schools entered the Senior High School category, which is judged by journalism teachers who have entered outstanding publications in the past.

The Blue & White received 960 out of a possible 1,000 points in the contest this year, the most scored by any other newspaper, earning the Wharton publication the ASPA’s highest honor, Most Outstanding High School Newspaper for 2020-21.

“Adviser Kyle LoJacono and the entire staff of the Blue & White newspaper should be congratulated on this excellent achievement,” Dr. Richard Plass, Chairman of the ASPA, told the Neighborhood News in an email.

“It was very rewarding,” says Callie, who will attend the University of Florida in Gainesville in the fall. “It was difficult to get things done this year. Trying to connect and make deadline was very weird.”

While the year was plagued by Covid-19, it wasn’t short on providing news for the four, 16-page issues the staff put out. 

Callie thinks that what separated the Blue & White from its competition was its visual appearance, a new section that focused on hot topics called “The Spotlight,” great photography, a generous use of infographics and a plethora of big national stories — Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, the election, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, that the staff localized.

“We were a complete newspaper,” Callie says. “We had a staff with a lot of different strengths and we played to them. They didn’t try to be good at one thing, they tried to be good at a lot of things.”

Personally, Callie says she was most pleased with her Feb. center spread about the events of Jan. 6. “I loved writing that piece,” she says, adding that, at  960 words, it was the longest thing she had ever written.

Callie, whose sister Ashley (editor in chief) and brother Taylor (sports editor) are former Blue & White staffers, said she is happy to end her tenure, and high school career, being named the best in the country, especially considering the circumstances.

“There were so many things, like just getting cameras to kids who weren’t on campus,” Callie says. “So many things that we would have never even thought of before. But, to have the organization and skill to make it all happen, I’m just really proud of this group.”

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