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PVHS Newspaper, The Smoke Signal, Wins Top Awards


This article originally appeared in the
Nov. 7, 2016 edition of Pascack Press.

PASCACK VALLEY – The student-run newspaper of Pascack Valley High School (PVHS), the Smoke Signal, took home top honors at the Oct. 24 Garden State Scholastic Press Association’s (GSSPA) conference, which is a gathering that annually acknowledges the accomplishments of student journalists in New Jersey.

During the GSSPA’s keynote presentation during Fall Student Press Day that was held at Rutgers University, the Smoke Signal was awarded the top prize for Distinguished Journalism for high schools in the middle “B” size division.

Student journalists of the Smoke Signal, which is on line at, received a total of 19 individual awards, among which were five first-place honors in various categories, including sweeping all three places for In-depth Reporting.
Here are students behind the award winning Smoke Signal high school newspaper. Left to right, top to bottom: Jake Aferiat, Casey Lewis, Nicole Arden, Kaitlyn Conti, Jamie Ryu and Emily Bonner, Curstine Guevarra, Sarah Schmoyer, Lauren Cohen, Kyle Comito, Madison Gallo, Kayla Barry, Julia Fiskin, Naria Zuluaga, and Robyn Roznitsky.
School Newspaper Adviser Bill Rawson, who is now in his third year at PVHS, expected the Smoke Signal and staff to garner some awards at the conference, but said he didn’t anticipate so many individual honors for Pascack students as well as the newspaper winning the GSSPA’s top prize.

“This is even beyond what I could have imagined,” he said. “To use an analogy of how high school sports work, this is tantamount to winning an overall Group title. In short, our student journalists are state champions.”
Rawson mentioned that the awards are a result of submissions during the summer to GSSPA’s newspaper contest, and all student work is impartially judged by a panel of professional journalists, professors and experienced advisers.

Five students contributed to the article, “Transgender Policy Portfolio,” which won the In-depth Reporting Award and was a compilation of all stories written by the Smoke Signal’s staff concerning the adoption of a transgender policy by the Pascack Valley Regional Board of Education earlier in the year. Current Smoke Signal Editor-in-Chief Kyle Comito, Jamie Ryu, Robert Saul, Shannon Culloo and Calvin Ralph all combined for the winning entry.

First-place winners in other categories were: Features, Robyn Roznitsky; Editorial, Vanessa Rutigliano; Opinion, Chandni Shah; and Photography, Patricia Ocelotl.
These are some of the students who won awards for their high school’s newspaper The Smoke Signal. Left to right, Jamie Ryu, Sarah Schmoyer, Curstine Guevarra, Jake Aferiat, Kyle Comito, Madison Gallo, Kayla Barry, and Lauren Cohen.
Rawson noted that the Smoke Signal, as a student-run publication, operates a bit differently from other newspapers in the fact that there are no deadlines as in a weekly edition.

“My vision, when I took over, was to have a website so it has new content on it every single day, so people will keep coming back to read it,” he said.

Interestingly enough, many of the people who read the on-line newspaper are not students.

“I would say a third of our audience is outside our walls, and maybe even pushing it could be 50 percent,” Rawson said. “We received positive feedback from parents, alumni and some people in town. We keep everything relevant to our community and our audience. If it is a national issue, we try to give it a localized slant.”

Rutigliano, who was last year’s editor-in-chief and is now a freshman at The College of New Jersey, talked about her many duties in overseeing the school newspaper in her senior year.

“It was difficult, quote unquote, to be in charge,” she said. “It’s a lot of responsibility and you never have a free moment, but it was worth it in the end. I pretty much accomplished everything that I wanted to do.”

Her article, “Lack of Authenticity in PV’s Outside Coverage: Student Voices in the Media do not Reflect the Entire Student Body,” won first place for Editorial Writing. The article concerned local media coverage of three notable news events at PVHS - its transgender policy, a novel two-day sabbatical from classes where students worked at home and then sent in their work to their teachers at the end of the day by email and racist signs of swastikas and “White Power” that were found in the school.

Rutigliano stated that media groups focused only on certain aspects of the issues and did not fully report the stories.

“I felt that all sides needed to be voiced and understood,” she said. “Sometimes the media - not that they get the story wrong - but sometimes they don’t give the whole story. “It’s only fair that everybody in my school knew the whole story and understood all sides of it.”

Shah’s article, “Bring PV Together by Changing the Mascot,” which garnered the first-place award for Opinion Writing, is about the school’s mascot, the Indians, and the surrounding controversy over its name.

“What motivated me to write the piece is the ignorance behind the mascot,” said Shah, who is currently in her junior year. “No student at PVHS is taught about the oppression the Native Americans went through in our country and specifically tribes indigenous to our area.”

“The passion I had on the topic really allowed for my ideas to flow right out of my brain onto my computer screen, so winning this award truly means a lot to me,” she added.

Comito, who finished in second place for Opinion Writing and garnered two Honorable Mention Awards in other categories to complement his contribution to the In-depth Reporting Award, was a bit taken aback that the Smoke Signal won Distinguished Journalism honors from the GSSPA.

“It wasn’t expected,” he said. “When I was sitting in the crowd for the keynote presentation, I was surprised to hear the Smoke Signal called up to get the award,” he said. “I knew we would get some awards, but 19 - that’s crazy. I didn’t expect all that, it was really surprising.”

Asked about this school year’s plans for the newspaper as editor-in-chief, Comito stated that he would continue in the path that Rutigliano started last year.

“Vanessa [Rutigliano] was a big key for us in setting priorities to follow, setting schedules and how we organize editorial meetings,” Comito said. “She put all of the things in place so my job is to take everything she set up so well and continue it and improve our quality. We’ll try to focus our coverage on PVHS and the PVHS community.”
Photo courtesy William Rawson