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Star reporters win honors in Scholastic Press Association of Chicago awards

Senior Steven Nunez received a $1,500 college scholarship by winning the Scholastic Press Association of Chicago “Student Journalist of the Year” on March 7.

“Steven deserves this recognition and award because of his talent and tireless work serving Steinmetz through his incredible photojournalism,” said Star adviser Sharon Schmidt, who had submitted dozens of Steven’s published photos from the past year’s print edition of the Star along with a nomination letter, excerpted below.

In addition to Steven’s prestigious award, the Star won many other honors in the media awards held at Roosevelt University.


Editor Elise Guillen holds the award for ‘Superior Special Coverage.’ Steinmetz Star reporters and photographers are among the best high school journalists in the city of Chicago.

The Steinmetz Star again showed it is one of the best high school newspapers in Chicago. Only Lane, Payton and Jones ranked higher in the number of honors awarded to high school journalists, overall newspapers and websites.

The Star won in the following categories:

• Superior Special Coverage – Elise Guillen, editor (More than 50 personality profiles of the Class of 2017)
• Superior News Story – Alyanna Fontinilla, reporter (“CPS policies create severe enrollment decline at Steinmetz”)
• Superior Sports Photo – Steven Nunez, photo editor (“Streaks teamwork shows in 19 wins”)
• Excellent Overall Newspaper – Agape Alfaro, editor (Nov. – Dec. 2017 Steinmetz Star)
• Excellent Overall Layout – Monica Marroquin, staff photographer (Nov. – Dec. 2017 Steinmetz Star)
• Excellent Website – Kyiah Morris, editor (
• Excellent Web Design – Jamara Mcgarry, editor(
• Excellent Sports Story – Tyrek Gates, reporter (“Streaks varsity baseball dominating conference”)
• Excellent Column – Agape Alfaro, editor (“Am I Asian enough?”)
• Excellent Review – Alina Qureshy, editor (“‘Hamilton’ hype is well deserved”)
• Excellent Non-Sports Photo – Steven Nunez, photo editor (“Cuban Fest – another great cultural opportunity in Chicago”)


Newspaper club and journalism students pose by the statue of “The Bowman” at Michigan and Congress after the Scholastic Press Association of Chicago media awards at Roosevelt University on March 7.

Steven Nunez, Columbia

Steven Nunez’s “Student Journalist of the Year” award came with a $1,500 scholarship, which he will use toward his tuition at Columbia College where he will study photography. (Photo by Aly Fontanilla)

Nomination letter for Steven Nunez, Student Journalist of the Year
By Sharon Schmidt, Star adviser
Feb. 2, 2018

The Star’s 2017-18 MVP is our photo editor

While the Star has many excellent reporters and editors on our staff, especially four senior girls who have contributed very good reporting, copy editing and editing throughout their years at Steinmetz, the most valuable staff member, who has done the most for the Star this year, is our photo editor, senior Steven Nunez.

One of the most important aspects of the Star is our photography. It has made the Star well-liked in the school and stand out from other newspapers. Nearly every piece we publish is illustrated, usually with one or two photos. This style draws in our student readers, whose news consumption is mostly limited to graphic-heavy Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook or Twitter feeds. Photos are necessary for students to read our headlines and become interested enough to read our articles. Our photos also help highlight many students in our school who are not making news, but whose value is evident by being pictured in the school newspaper.

Steven’s work

Steven is responsible for contributing the most – and the best – photos to the Star. I’m glad one of the guidelines for this nomination is to focus on the past year. Our last four issues of the Star yielded nine, tabloid-size pages of his clips. I’m glad I didn’t have to go through more papers from previous years because there would be many more pictures to clip and mount. (For this nomination, I looked at only our print editions; I did not go through any of our website articles or slideshows, which include many more photos taken by Steven during this year.) To me, and others, his many clips from the year show his tireless coverage, as well as his talent and understanding of photojournalism.

Steven is completely driven to obtain the best shots for whatever story he’s covering and he wants to cover everything. This last year he seemed to be everywhere there was something newsworthy in our school and community. He took pictures of the mayor and alderman at a community meeting, Local School Council members and student and teacher public participants, athletes and teams of every sport at practices and competitions, drama performers, fashion models, musicians, extra-curricular club members, and groups and individuals when we needed to pose them for their portraits. Steven has never said no to an assignment and he’s found many other student events to cover that no one else on the staff even considered.

There is much more to Stevens photography than the volume of his work. His always-focused pictures also show that he understands lighting, composition, focus, and energy. I believe he has an intuitive understanding of what makes a good shot. His photos show intrigue and emotion; they tell the story.

While Steinmetz is a diverse school, most of our students tend to stick with their own groups. Steven has worked with students in all racial and ability groups and with those whose interests that are not his. He doesn’t just take pictures of his friends or his sport or his grade level or students who look like him. Because of this willingness to capture our school’s diversity, the newspaper really reflects Steinmetz and shows that all our students are valuable.

Steven’s commitment to learning

We don’t have a photography course at Steinmetz and Steven hasn’t been able to take the journalism class I teach, which includes some instruction on photography. But Steven has learned to be a good photographer on his own, by seeking out teachers at workshops and through online instruction. Steven has also studied other student newspapers’ photography and past McCormick Foundation Media Awards booklets, learning from judges’ comments.

He’s experimented with lenses and settings. For awhile, he burdened himself with carrying two cameras with him, to see which would achieve his best shot. Steven is adventurous. He explores Chicago, searching for new settings to shoot. In addition to the time and effort he’s put into his photography, he has also put in a lot of money. He took a pretty tough job, working long hours at the amusement center Go Bananas, even cleaning bathrooms there, to earn money for camera equipment. He chose to spend $300 of his savings on a helicopter trip with his girlfriend to get the experience of shooting the Chicago skyline from above.

After three years of taking pictures for the Star, Steven said he noticed that he shoots the same thing every year (the same sports, same events). “But I make sure my work is improving,” he said. This year, he convinced the administration to move the Homecoming Dance to the gym. He said he was tired of shooting it in the lunchroom and wanted different lighting.

In addition to photography, Steven has learned Adobe InDesign and worked on the layout of the paper more than other staff members. He’s also made the most intelligent decisions about our overall design. (Our messy, middle spread in the Nov.-Dec. 2017 paper, the one we submitted for Overall Newspaper and Overall Layout, was created by me and my journalism class students, not Steven. I like his spreads for the fashion show and prom, which look cleaner.)

Service and character growth

Steven spends many hours covering events that other people are participating in to serve the Steinmetz community. “My work is appreciated by students, that’s why I keep pushing,” Steven said. “Photography gives me a purpose in life to go out in the world and to connect with others.” Whenever Steven shoots an event, and before any of his pictures are published, people want to see his pictures. He goes out of his way to share photos with the students and the staff involved.

I believe that photography changed him. When I met him during his sophomore year, I would have called him standoffish or arrogant. But through his contact with so many people at Steinmetz, I now see him as an empathic person, who respects others for their talents and individuality. He’s learned to connect with others. “I built a strong relationship with my photography and the students,” Steven said. “They feel comfortable with me taking photos of them.” I now see a willingness to ask for help and real confidence instead of arrogance in Steven. He’s become a patient, critical thinker, and it’s reflected in his work.

This year, he also became a leader. After our veteran yearbook teacher stepped down, the position was taken by Renato Roldan, a history teacher and coach with no publications experience. Roldan knew that Steven had mad skills, so he asked him to attend a workshop last summer and be the editor of the yearbook. Steven is running the book this year.

“Steven established himself as the lead photographer and chief editor,” Roldan said. “He helps other kids with the software and layout. He set timelines and assignments. He works with different personalities, with those of low social skills or high. He works with people’s talents and strengths. It reaffirmed my conviction that when you give kids power and the ability use their passion, they will be so much more productive.”

Basically, without Steven, Roldan would never be able to do the yearbook. “I knew I needed somebody like Steven,” Roldan said. “His passion and talent supercedes my rookie year.” He also said he thinks he’ll be able to learn enough from Steven this year so that he can teach without him next year. Like me, Roldan appreciates Steven’s work ethic and talent. “Steven is the most driven student I have met in a long time,” Roldan said. “He has dedicated his life to the yearbook, the Star and other projects revolving around photography. There is no better photographer in the city than Steven Nunez.”

College plans

Steven plans to study photography at college. He’s interested in photo journalism, particularly in the music scene. (It was a great experience for him last summer after he sought out and obtained press credentials for the Cuban Fest. He said it was a dream come true to shoot professional musicians in the pit at the concert venue.) Steven has been accepted at Columbia College. He could use the $1,500 scholarship for inspiration and financial necessity.

Please choose Steven for student journalist of the year. I believe he deserves the honor and award for his great effort, growing talent, dedication, service to others, and reachable goal to keep improving in his ability to tell real stories through photo journalism.


2 comments on “Star reporters win honors in Scholastic Press Association of Chicago awards

  1. Jaime G. Jaramillo Jr., Assistant Principal on said:

    I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Steinmetz Star on a job well done! I appreciate all the hard work and dedication that went into making the Star one of the premier high school papers in the city. Although the paper is a collective production, it brings me great pleasure to see individual student’s contributions recognized by others beyond the walls of our school. We know our students are fantastic and many of us go out of our way to let them know that, but it is so much sweeter when we can show the rest of the city how great our students are. This same sentiment applies to our very talented art department.
    Thank you for supporting our students and singing their praises!

  2. Ms. E on said:

    Congratulations to Ms Schmidt and Star Journalists Steven Nunez, Elise Guillen, Alyanna Fontinilla, Agape Alfaro, Monica Marroquin, Kylah Morris, Jamara McGarry, Tyrek Gates, and Alina Qureshy for their well deserved commendations. Thank you all for making our school the brightest star in the Chicago!

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