Rock Canyon Journalism Educator Wins Natl Award

Rock Canyon Journalism Educator Wins National Award
Posted on 12/14/2020
Rock Canyon Journalism Educator Wins National Award

Douglas County School District (DCSD) is pleased to announce that Kristi Rathbun at Rock Canyon High School (RCHS) has been recognized as one of the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) Pioneer Award recipients. The Pioneer Award is the highest honor NSPA awards to middle and high school journalism educators. Pioneer Award recipients make substantial contributions to high school journalism programs and scholastic journalism education outside their primary employment.

Nominated by former Pioneer Award recipient and former RCHS teacher and media advisor, Jack Kennedy, Rathbun has dedicated over 25 years of her career to scholastic media.

“I’m still pretty surprised!” says Rathbun when asked how she felt about the Pioneer Award. “To me, the award means a recognition of a passion for helping students and advisors create the best possible media product for their communities, whatever level they’re at and wherever they are. Allowing them to share the voices at their school and making the stories and their school and community heard.”

RCHS’s media department, Rockmedia, produces the Black & Gold yearbook,, and The Rock newspaper. The department, as well as individual student journalists have won awards and Best of Show honors at national and regional conferences and conventions. Former Rockmedia journalists have gone to work for prestigious publications like Sports Illustrated or to run their own graphic design or photography business.

Rathbun also credits the department’s success to a statewide law.

“In Colorado, we have a law on the books that grants students the freedom of expression, Rathbun explains. “There are now 14 states that offer this kind of protection. Students have the same rights and responsibilities as a professional journalist.”

As an advisor, Rathbun provides her students with opportunities to learn the highest standards of journalism. The rest depends on the students’ skill level and how far they are willing to go.

“I can’t say enough how fortunate we are in Douglas County and at RCHS to have students that are willing to work hard, to push themselves, to be willing to express their skills in such a creative way,” says Rathbun.

Like every other classroom, 2020 has created several unique challenges for Rathbun and the Rockmedia crew. With limited access to events and people, the students have had to get creative and tenacious in journalism.

“Continuing work on the yearbook has been a challenge in terms of getting to an event or interviewing someone and still maintain social distancing,” says Rathbun. “Photography has always been a huge part of what we do, so they have been crowdsourcing photos of accomplishments from other students.”

With 2020 changing by the minute, Rathbun believes the communication and management skills her students are learning are helping them hone valuable problem-solving skills.

“I think journalists have to think on their feet a lot, and I think they have to be strong observers. I think they need to be aware of things that are changing around them. That skill set I think works well in this kind of situation.”

Above any awards, recognitions, or skill-building, Rathbun prioritizes caring for her students.

“At the end of the day, there’s no assignment that’s more important than a student’s well-being. That’s something I come to school with every day. Especially where we are now. Kids are struggling.”

Rathbun’s propensity for caring for the whole student was recognized in her Pioneer Award nomination. In a letter supporting Rathbun’s nomination, Jessica Hunziker, a former student teacher at RCHS and current media teacher at Castle View High School writes, “From Kristi, I learned that the best teachers love their students and that our relationships with students make the difference. Sometimes, loving on kids is more important than a deadline or an award, and few do this as well as Kristi.”

Yet, according to Rathbun, that love is complex.

“It’s pushing them to work a little bit harder. It’s pushing them to go find one more source, to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes to see things from a different perspective. But at the same time, if they miss a deadline or we don’t place or enter into a contest, it’s not as important as how they are doing personally.”

With the first semester of 2020 wrapping up, Rathbun will take her award with gratitude and pride and continue to do what she does best: help brave, talented, tenacious student journalists affect positive change in their communities through student media.
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