Burke ready for special trip to L.A. convention

Written by Evan Blackwell, CJE

Trips to the national scholastic journalism conventions aren’t new for Renee Burke, or her publications staffs.

For the past 20 years, Burke, MJE, NBCT, has always made it a priority to attend the national events with her yearbook and newspaper students from Boone High School in Orlando, Florida. That will be true again this week for the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention in Los Angeles.

However, in addition to the valuable bonding and learning experience for the Boone staffers, this trip to L.A. will be special for Burke. On this trip, she will officially receive her 2015 H.L. Hall Yearbook Adviser of the Year award from JEA that was first announced back in January.

Even upon reflection, and trying to prepare for this Saturday’s awards lunch, the honor still hasn’t quite sunk in.

“I’m still kind of in shock about it honestly. It’s the seminal moment of my career,” said Burke. “There are so many other people before me that I think of as being more worthy of this award.”

Teaching has always been a joy for Burke. And despite the fact that both her yearbook and newspaper staffs at Boone have frequently been the recipients of state and national awards over the years, winning national awards was never something she envisioned for herself.

Only after coaxing from friends and colleagues did she start submitting an application for JEA’s Yearbook Adviser of the Year. Last year, it thrilled her to be named a 2014 Distinguished Adviser by JEA.

Then, on what seemed like an ordinary Wednesday in January, Burke was surprised during a faculty meeting by a JEA contingent that included 2014 Yearbook Adviser of the Year Margaret Sorrows to present her this year’s award.

“We were doing our thing, congrats to this person and that person, and our principal said, ‘We have one more thing to celebrate,’” said Burke. “Then our school’s drumline started playing, and the drumline is one of my all-time favorite things about our school. When they marched in, right behind them was Margaret Sorrows and I knew what it meant. I immediately started crying.”

Now this Saturday, Burke will get the chance to thank all those who encouraged her throughout her career, and she “has a lot of people to thank.” She also plans on using the moment to speak to a topic that’s near and dear to her – making sure scholastic journalism programs get the support they need.

“Journalism programs are getting overlooked because people don’t understand what happens in the journalism classroom,” said Burke. “I have kids that have gone on to med school that have said journalism was the most important class they took. That’s because it was the class that taught them perseverance, how to work with a diverse group of people and how to achieve a goal.”

And it’s a class that has paid off for Burke with a wonderful career.

“This is not an easy job. It’s a hard job. Sometimes it requires long hours,” said Burke. “But it’s the most rewarding.”

Evan Blackwell, CJE

Evan Blackwell, CJE, is a Web Content Specialist for walsworthyearbooks.com and yearbookhelp.com, as well as a regular contributor to Idea File magazine. He's been a writer and editor for Walsworth Yearbooks for the past 13 years, and is the author of the Yearbook Suite's "The Art of the Interview" unit. Prior to joining Walsworth, Blackwell spent five years as an award-winning newspaper and magazine journalist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.