Beth Hawkins, Tom Nehil honored by Education Writers Association

Beth Hawkins

MinnPost education writer Beth Hawkins has won two national awards from the Education Writers Association, one of which she shares with MinnPost news editor/web producer Tom Nehil.

Beth’s Learning Curve blog won Second Prize in Beat Reporting — Small Newsroom.

The Beat Reporting entry consisted of a body of work published in 2013, including “Friendship Academy’s Journey to Success Took No Easy Path,” “As in His Life, Samatar’s Funeral Brought All Manner of Minnesotans Together,” “What Does It Do to Kids When Their School Building Screams, ‘Nothing Important Happens Here’?” and four other articles.

Judges said:

Beth Hawkins fills her blogs with solid reporting on a wide variety of issues in education. Written in an easy-to-read style, her pieces raise awareness of the people, the schools and the issues important to education in St. Paul. The [“Friendship Academy”] story on the “ladies” and the refuge they found with a teacher who gave them extra instruction in math was particularly striking.

Beth Hawkins brings a fresh approach, a conversational sort of authority and the savvy you hope for in a source of information about education. She hasn’t dumbed it down, but she has translated the philosophies she writes about with practical examples, strong descriptive skill, and a deft and mostly reliable avoidance of jargon. Anyone dismissive of the blog format should take note of her insightful use of it, exploiting too the opportunity to make personal observations that connect on a different level with readers. The warm – not smarmy or gushing – reflection on Samatar’s funeral [“As In His Life …”]is a case in point and the ‘rant’ on the depressing condition of some facilities [“What Does It Do … ?”] is another. The posts are well-reported, bring in voices from many strata, and written with engaging skill.

Tom Nehil

In the category Single-Topic News or Feature — Small Newsroom, Beth and Tom Nehil won third prize for an entry titled “District 287,” a series of articles that addressed a largely hidden crisis in education. Focusing on Intermediate District 287, the series described how a decade of social-service cuts and rising poverty have left Minnesota schools — which turn no child away —  struggling to serve a growing number of students whose severe mental-health issues and cognitive disabilities aren’t being addressed anywhere else.

The series included an interactive map, created by Beth and Tom, showing how special education cross-subsidies have changed in Minnesota school districts between 2004 and 2011. 

Judges’ comments about the series:

Given incredible access, Beth Hawkins was able to tell the story of students often forgotten in the educational system, and how schools are pooling resources to try to get these children the help they need.

With this series, Beth Hawkins demonstrates again the great value a community gains when quality journalists have meaningful access to information and people. Hawkins took a topic that makes most people’s eyes glaze over – education funding – and brought it into three dimensions, showing the impact on kids, the complications of cross-subsidy strategies, and the ongoing obstacles to paying the full freight of programs that are mandated by law, essential for many kids, and often extremely expensive.

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