The School Newspaper of Lawrence High School.

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The School Newspaper of Lawrence High School.

The Budget

The School Newspaper of Lawrence High School.

The Budget

Senior Maya Smith named Kansas Student Journalist of the Year

Smith recognized for diverse, elite portfolio, will advance to national contest


It felt like nearly all of the student body was waiting in the atrium to help celebrate senior Maya Smith. But for once, this student journalist didn’t know what was going on. 

Smith, a Lawrence High senior and Red and Black yearbook co-editor-in-chief, was named the 2024 Kansas Student Journalist of the Year by Kansas Scholastic Press Association executive director Eric Thomas today. As students, faculty, administrators and family watched, Smith accepted the award and a $1,250 scholarship.

“I was actually shaking, I didn’t have any words because there were just so many people there to support me and congratulate me,” Smith said. “I just didn’t really think it was real because it came out of nowhere.”

The award is the highest honor bestowed on student journalists in Kansas. Out of hundreds of schools and thousands of students, a few seniors submit extensive portfolios to KSPA in hopes of receiving the award. The portfolios require students to demonstrate their skills in a wide variety of areas, including writing, photography, design, web and social media, broadcast, law, ethics, news literacy, marketing, audience engagement, and commitment to diversity. Thomas pointed out that it’s hard to amass such a wide-ranging body of work. 

“It’s pretty exceptional that a yearbook journalist would do all of this kind of breaking news stuff and also all of this very newsy stuff,” Thomas said. “Maya’s done work that I think takes a really honest look at what’s going on in Lawrence and what’s going on in the high school.”

Smith has been guided throughout her journalism career by journalism adviser Barbara Tholen. After four years of learning, partly online during the pandemic, Tholen is proud to see what Smith has accomplished. 

“She’s really good at finding something new, taking just a little bit of direction and just running with it,” Tholen said. “It was pretty hard for me to not tell too many people because I’ve been pretty excited.”

Thomas explained that Smith’s portfolio was elite in more ways than one. 

“I was really surprised by how diverse her portfolio was,” Thomas said. “That was probably the first thing that struck me, and I’m always struck as a college instructor at the high quality of work — not just that students are doing lots of stuff — but that all the stuff is really good as well.”

As the Kansas winner, Smith will now compete for the national award, which will be announced at the NSPA/JEA National High School Journalism Convention in Kansas City in April. The journalism staff’s 2023 yearbook, of which Smith was editor-in-chief, will also be honored at that convention as a Pacemaker finalist, widely considered the top honor given to student publications.

Before moving on to the National Journalist of the Year competition, Smith will receive feedback on her portfolio so that she can perfect it in preparation for the national stage. Thomas is eager to see how Smith does in that competition. 

“I’m just excited to see how her portfolio does at the national level,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to put any pressure on her, but I think it’s really cool to see what the next phase looks like, too.”

For now, Smith is still soaking in the surprise of receiving the award. USD 497 Superintendent Anthony Lewis was in attendance, as well as many members of the IPS and Unified Sports programs — other groups that Smith is active in. Most journalism staff members were there as well as three LHS alumni who were Smith’s editors and peers when she first joined staff: Cuyler Dunn, Kenna McNally and Jack Ritter. Dunn was also the 2022 Kansas Student Journalist of the Year winner. 

“I’m very surprised that every single one of them kept a secret, because there’s so many of us and we’re all so close,” Smith said. “But I do feel very supported, and everyone seemed even happier than I was.”

Red and Black yearbook photo editor Maison Flory, a senior, credited her longtime friend Smith for sparking her love of journalism. Flory said that Smith has been an exemplary leader the past two years. With a little heads up about the surprise announcement, Flory made a sign for the event and was ready with her camera to document the moment.

“I didn’t really have a doubt that she wasn’t going to win,” Flory said. “She’s a well-rounded journalist, not only in writing, but also in design…it was just really fun. I’m glad she got to experience it.”

Zana Kennedy, Finn Lotton-Barker, Bryndal Hoover, and Delaney Haase contributed to this reporting.

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About the Contributors
Jack Tell, Co-Editor in Chief
As the co-editor in chief of, I'm looking forward to leading our publication during my senior year. My goal is to continue our tradition of award winning journalism and serve the LHS student body responsibly. When I'm not writing, l prefer to be mountain biking, swimming, or reading. I'm looking forward to covering all sorts of stories and doing quality work this year.
Lydia Folks, Photo Editor
I'm a second year photographer on staff. This year I am taking on the role of photo editor of When I am not taking pictures I am playing softball or participating in 4-H.
Maison Flory, Red and Black Photo Editor
I'm a third-year photographer on the journalism staff. When I am not taking pictures, I am showing my animals in 4-H and play club and school soccer.
Bryndal Hoover, Social Media Photo Editor
I am a first-year editor for the Budget and a second-year photographer for the LHS journalism staff. I absolutely cherish capturing our memories from high school in photographs. At school events, you can be sure to find me lurking with my camera.

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