Students at Thacher and Westover schools took five of eight awards in News Decoder’s latest Storytelling Contest, won by Christina MacCorkle.


The winners of News Decoder’s Ninth Storytelling Contest, clockwise from upper left: Li Keira Yin, Christina MacCorkle, Evan Wright, Lucy Jaffee, Lucy Bird, Miriam Hernandez, Augustė Sturlytė, Akvilė Selevičiūtė, Elena Townsend-Lerdo

Christina MacCorkle of The Thacher School in the United States has won first prize in News Decoder’s latest Storytelling Contest with an article drawing parallels between protest movements in South Korea and the United States.

MacCorkle emerged on top of a very crowded field that, along with written reports, featured photo essays, poetry and video. Climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement and international relations were dominant themes.

Perhaps students were looking past the coronavirus pandemic, but not a single winning submission focused on COVID-19.

Students from Thacher, which is in Ojai, California, won three of the eight prizes, and two students from Westover School in Connecticut won awards for photo essays — always a strong medium from that U.S. school.

“I was blown away by the creativity and passion in many of the entries,” said Sarah Edmonds, a News Decoder correspondent and one of the three judges who selected the winners.

Thacher, Westover students took home the lion’s share of the prizes.

This was the ninth Storytelling Contest, held twice a year and supported by an anonymous donor in honor of the late Arch Roberts Jr. None of the previous competitions had ended with so many entries vying for top spot.

There were three runner-up entries:

  • Akvilė Selevičiūtė and Augustė Sturlytė of the European School of Brussels II produced a multi-media report on an art protest at their school calling for far-reaching measures to save the planet Earth;
  • Li Keira Yin of Thacher wrote a poem that explored her struggles as a Chinese national studying in the United States;
  • Evan Wright of Indiana University examined the Burmese diaspora in the U.S. state of Indiana against the backdrop of a military coup and violent crackdown on pro-democracy forces in Myanmar.

There were four third-prize winners:

  • Lucy Bird of Westover produced a photo report that connected the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of more than half a century ago with the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement;
  • Elena Townsend-Lerdo of Thacher wrote about how a newspaper in a U.S. prison raises awareness of social justice issues and offers a new chance to convicts;
  • Miriam Hernandez of Westover offered a photo report and accompanying text capturing her conflicting feelings growing up in a family from Mexico that had immigrated to the United States;
  • Lucy Jaffee of La Jolla Country Day School in California interviewed experts and mined data to produce an article on why more U.S. schools don’t teach about climate change. Jaffee was a runner-up in the previous contest with an article examining a landmark free-speech case in the United States.

The winners split a total of $850 in prize money, offered by the anonymous donor.

‘The only kind of writing is rewriting.’

Juror Janet Hartwell, who is a member of News Decoder’s governing board and a former head of school, said she was impressed by the range of topics and how globally-minded the authors were.

“They bring a passion and in many cases a deep commitment to changing the old order of the way things have been done,” Hartwell said. “The lesson I draw from reading these stories is hope. I am more optimistic about the future, about our world, and about the stewardship of our planet than I was before reading these young writers.”

Fellow juror Dylan Carlson-Sirvent, a student at Yale College and former News Decoder intern, said the strongest pieces emerged from collaborative back-and-forth between editors and the author.

“Hemingway once famously said, ‘The only kind of writing is rewriting,'” said Carlson-Sirvent.

“To those who did not win, dismay not. Instead, if you internalize this lesson, that the best writing emerges from the collaborative processes of editing and dialogue, you will already be a much writer than you were before the contest.”

(Nelson Graves is the founder of News Decoder.)

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ContestsStudents at Thacher, Westover excel in News Decoder contest