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Coverage of Parkland and Aftermath Earn Education Writers Association Awards

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News articles stemming from the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff members last year were a dominant theme among winners of the Education Writers Association's annual awards and the group's national meeting here this week. In addition, a pair of feature stories about how two teenagers from Central America were swept up in the Trump administration's crackdown on violent gangs won the organization's top prize.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel won two awards for its coverage of the Feb. 14, 2018, shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Scott Travis, a reporter with the Sun Sentinel, read the names of the 17 victims as he accepted the award for single-topic news package by a medium-size newsroom for a package labeled "Parkland Shooting: From the Causes to the Aftermath."

"These 17 angels paid the ultimate price on Feb. 14, 2018, so hopefully we all can have safer schools," Travis said.

The Sun Sentinel also won EWA's first award for public service, in the medium class, for a separate package of stories, "Parkland: History's Most Preventable School Shooting."

One judge commented on that package: "When the cameras left and the marches were over, The Sun Sentinel doggedly went after the one question that went unanswered amid the outcry of the Parkland shooting: How did this happen?"

The awards come just weeks after the Sun Sentinel won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Other awards for school shooting coverage went to Mark Keierleber of the website The 74 Million, for "The Post-Parkland Landscape of School Security," for single-topic news by a small staff; and to Bethany Barnes of The (Portland) Oregonian for "Targeted: A Family and the Quest to Stop the Next School Shooter." That story told the tale of a student and his family caught up in a school district's "threat assessment" investigation.

Meanwhile, Hannah Dreier of the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica, won the the Fred M. Hechinger grand prize for distinguished education reporting, which is named for a late education correspondent of The New York Times. Dreier's submission included a ProPublica collaboration with the Times and another with New York magazine about two members of the MS-13 gang on Long Island who found that cooperation with the police did not spare them from immigration enforcement.

"These were heartbreaking stories about how school resource officers become spies for police departments and ICE," said one judge about the entry. "The extensive reporting combined with intimate portraits of the two students make this an unforgettable series."

The other awards in the new public service category  went to Emily Hanford and Chris Julin of APM Reports in the small staff class for "Hard Words: Why Aren't Kids Being Taught to Read?"

The radio and podcast documentary, which has been well-received among teachers, examines why teachers aren't being taught the science behind the fact that all children can learn to read.

"We all know there are no silver bullets in education, but this is the closest we can get," Barnes said in accepting the award.

The large staff public service award went to two old media stalwarts—the Chicago Tribune, for its series "Betrayed: How Chicago Schools Failed to Protect Students From Sexual Abuse"; and The Philadelphia Inquirer, for "Toxic City: Sick Schools."

The New York Times won two awards, including the single-topic, large staff award for the Education Issue of The New York Times Magazine, which featured among other stories one examining rising teacher activism. And Erica L. Green of the Times won the large-staff beat reporting award for stories that included an investigation of T.M. Landry College Preparatory School in Breaux Bridge, La., which gained national attention for sending its students to top colleges but in fact was doctoring college applications.

Green on May 6 conducted an interview at the conference with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the secretary's first appearance at EWA. Education Week's Alyson Klein has this report.

Hundreds of education journalists, as well as public relations professionals and experts in the field, gathered here for the conference, which had a theme of "Student Success, Safety, and Well-Being."

The full list of finalists is here, and the list of all category winners is here.

On Wednesday, EWA was to announce the first EWA Lifetime Achievement Prize. The prize was inspired by the late Michael H. "Mike" Bowler, who covered education for the Baltimore Sun for decades and later served as a member of the Baltimore County board of education. Bowler died in September 2018 at age 77.

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