The Flame, the student newspaper of the Golda Och Academy Upper School in West Orange, has won second place in the American Scholastic Press Association’s national 2022 school newspaper competition.
The prize was awarded for the newspaper’s June 2022 issue.
This isn’t the first ASPA prize certificate the student publication has earned; it won third place in the annual contest in 2021.
GOA is a 525-student pre-K-through-12th-grade Solomon Schechter school, affiliated with the Conservative movement.
The ASPA judges wrote that The Flame “shows the emerging creativity and journalistic knowledge of its editors and reporters” and noted that the dedicated staff kept it going strong through the difficult pandemic years.
We asked the co-editors in chief, 11th-graders Mimi Lebeau of South Orange and Josh Lancman of West Orange, why they thought the prize was merited.
“It’s a very high-quality newspaper,” Mimi said. “We put in a lot of effort to make sure all the articles are well edited and very interesting. In that issue we had a wide variety of different articles, covering a lot of ground and diverse topics.”
Josh said that because The Flame is only eight pages long and is published every two months — plus a Purim supplement devoted to satire — the staff of 20 student editors is “able to focus and really work with all the writers individually and create good, high-quality content. I think that really stands out.”
The newspaper has crisply laid out sections for news, features, Schechter life, opinion pieces, environment, and sports.
Mimi wrote the cover story for the winning issue on the school’s new flexible schedule for the 2022-23 school year.
Among the other 21 articles were features on a GOA junior learning to pilot planes and on the transformation of the school library; news pieces on the first Black female Supreme Court justice and on Israeli spyware; op-eds about the failures of the United Nations and about how television affects politics; and sports commentary on the NBA playoffs and about GOA sports teams opening Instagram pages.
Language arts teacher Jason Langer is in his third year as faculty adviser to The Flame. He’s also been advisor to the school’s literary magazine, Nuts & Raisins. In 2019, under his guidance, Nuts & Raisins won a first-place award in the ASPA’s annual magazine competition.
His guiding hand is most definitely a factor in the paper’s achievements.
“In my previous school, a public school in Union, I was advisor on the school newspaper for 11 years, and we won a lot of awards,” Mr. Langer said. “When I got to GOA, I saw that the paper carried a lot of opinion pieces and a poetry corner. I revamped it to focus on news.”
He also instituted a policy of including one or two contributions from middle school students in every issue, with an eye toward building up a pipeline of future writers.
However, The Flame remains primarily a high-school endeavor, with an editorial staff of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. (GOA seniors spend a semester in Israel and therefore cannot participate as editors, Mr. Langer explained.)
“We meet every Monday for an hour during their lunch break, and I am as hands-off as possible,” Mr. Langer said. “The editors go through the hallways and talk to their friends, get students to write articles, and then polish them up.” He also lends his editorial eye to the copy.
Mr. Langer noted that GOA parents enjoy reading The Flame, and the school’s admissions team distributes it to prospective students. “We also have a website with its own editor, and a social media editor who promotes the upcoming issues among our student body,” he said.
This proud faculty adviser surmised that the American Scholastic Press Association was impressed with “the breadth of topics covered — international and intellectual topics that were pretty heavy. The students covered them well and found ways to connect them to our community.”
The editors now are putting the finishing touches on the February issue, which they decided to devote entirely to exploring aspects of the disturbing rise in antisemitism in different parts of society, including pop culture.
For example, a piece on antisemitism in sports will look at athletes’ toxic Twitter posts. The features section will have a piece about the famously offensive remarks of Kanye West, and the op-ed section will explore the difficulty of separating art from artists, asking whether it is acceptable to listen to music by artists who’ve made antisemitic statements.
Mimi explained that as co-editors in chief, she and Josh “help the section editors organize all their writers and topics, then edit all the articles once they have been edited by the section editors.”
Josh, who wrote a review of the new Batman movie for the award-winning issue, said he expects his involvement on The Flame to stand him in good stead for the future.
“I feel I am getting great training in editing and writing and leadership skills that will be incredibly helpful for any future endeavor I find myself in,” he said. “It’s been such a good experience, leading such a talented group of people.”