October 25, 2019
Friends of Journalism
By Michael Burns, Bridgeland HS
Oct. 25, 2019—To honor their service to scholastic journalism, CFISD Director of Communication Joel Weckerly and Communications Specialist Angel Verdejo received the Friends of Journalism award from the Texas Association of Journalism Educators at the Fall Fiesta convention in San Antonio on Oct. 20.
The Friends of Journalism award is given to individuals with significant contributions to scholastic journalism. Weckerly launched the CFISD High School Journalism Network (HSJN)—a partnership between the communication team and high school journalism students—in 2014, beginning with 97 students. More than 250 participated in 2018-2019 with Verdejo leading the program.
Bridgeland adviser and TAJE President-elect, Samantha Berry, said she doesn't know of other school districts with this program. According to Weckerly, the HSJN creates a relationship with the students and the district office.
“Utilizing the talents of our journalism students for a multitude of projects, whether it’s for a photo or an in-depth feature story, has helped revolutionize coverage in a large education community where good news is always happening,” Weckerly said. “I think that all districts can benefit from this type of partnership.”
TAJE members are encouraged to nominate worthy individuals or groups for this award. Jersey Village High School Adviser and 2018 TAJE Trailblazer Margie Comstock nominated Weckerly and Verdejo.
“This program is not a part of either man’s job description with the district,” Comstock said in her nomination letter. “They love journalism and love helping our programs grow. These two men, together, have given our students opportunities, recognition, and awards that I have not seen any other district give their journalism students. The student publication advisers across our district are extremely thankful for their commitment to aiding our students develop their skills in the field of communications and journalism.”
Learning he and his team were receiving recognition, Weckerly was humbled and honored.
“I think neither Angel nor I seek credit or achievements for something that we see as a service back to high school journalism programs, which helped launch our respective careers in communication,” Weckerly said. “Every year, the teachers always say such nice things and have even given us plaques, but a recognition of this scale was certainly unexpected and appreciated.”
After Weckerly’s promotion to director of communication, former sportswriter Angel Verdejo joined the district in 2017 and soon took over the lead role for the HSJN. Verdejo expanded the network to include more opportunities such as a districtwide Quill and Scroll induction ceremony. In 2019, the communication team added a second specialist in Abbie McIntosh, formerly the CFISD Journalist of the Year as an inaugural member of the HSJN.
“The award shows that what we're doing is working. Our big thing is the relationships we have with the students and advisers,” Verdejo said. “The fact that we got nominated by the advisers and we are supported by the advisers shows that the work we are doing is working and it is being recognized.”
TAJE President, Alyssa Boehringer admires the communications department in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. In 2005, Boehringer began advising journalism at McKinney High School. She has been a recipient of many awards, including JEA National Broadcast Adviser of the Year in 2017.
“Joel Weckerly and Angel Verdejo have fostered a culture where student journalists are treated as professionals. From holding press conferences, coordinating interviews and celebrating their successes, their district sends a clear message to student journalists—that what they do matters,” Boehringer said. “The Texas Association of Journalism Educators is proud to call them a Friend of Journalism and we hope other districts will look to their example.”