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2013 Michael S. Powell HS Journalist of the Year: Montgomery Blair’s Michelle Chavez

By T.C. Cameron

Michelle Chavez didn’t set out to break barriers or change perceptions. She managed to do it without giving it much thought.

Chavez, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School and managing editor of the school paper Silver Chips, is the MDDC Press Foundation’s 2013 High School Journalist of the year. Chavez receives a $1,500 cash award and will be honored at the MDDC Editorial Conference May 17 in Baltimore.

Chavez is the 14th overall winner of the award, first conferred in 1999. She is the fifth winner from Blair, joining Audrey Kubetin (2007), Jody Pollack (2006), Julia Kay (2002) and Matthew Smith (1999). Smith was the award’s inaugural winner.

But it was writing for Silver Chips, the official school paper at Blair and winner of the 2012 NSPA Pacemaker award, which afforded Chavez the opportunity to overcome discrimination and provided her with a dogged drive.

“When applying to Silver Chips, the editors immediately placed me on the newspaper’s Spanish page, convincing me the page needed help since its writers had little journalism experience,” Chavez said in her Powell application autobiography. “The page’s editor believed it was not reasonable to expect Latinos to write at the same level as the rest of the paper and requested I be removed from the page. It was only then that the adviser allowed me to write in English.”

Initially, the eye-opening experience stunned Chavez, but she flipped the situation to a positive outcome.

“I was disillusioned to learn that people thought Latinos could not write at a high level and that I was originally placed on the Spanish page only because of my race,” Chavez said. “When writing in English, I faced censorship on an opinion piece I wrote on subtle discrimination in the education system, based on my Spanish page experience; it had been deemed a ‘sensitive topic.’”

After instead submitting the piece unsuccessfully to Huffington Post, Chavez was invited to the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism conference as the Maryland state prep representative for the conference.

“Some would say I was not successful because the Huffington Post did not reply to me, but I disagree,” Chavez said.

Joseph Fanning noted Chavez’s leadership in his letter of recommendation to the foundation, noting her desire to stay after school on most days to edit copy from junior staff members and her mentorship of staffers with lesser experience or talent.

“Michelle is both intellectually curious and versatile,” said Silver Chips adviser Joseph M. Fanning is his letter of recommendation of Chavez to the foundation. “Michelle started off on our Spanish page – we publish two of our 32 pages in Spanish due to our large Latino population – but we asked Michelle to switch to an editor’s position for our English pages. She flourished in that role.”

Chavez has not announced her collegiate plans.

The Michael S. Powell High School Journalist of the Year has honored an outstanding senior staff member of a Maryland, Delaware or District of Columbia high school newspaper annually since 1999, with the one-time exception of 2004.

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