Whitney High’s memory maker earns top honor

By: Paris Narayan, Special to The Placer Herald
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Each year, one person gets the honor of being awarded the National Yearbook Advisor of the Year, and this year it went to Whitney High School’s own, Sarah Nichols. Nichols’ passion for yearbook and journalism began during her high school days. “My first experience in journalism was in high school as part of Elkonian yearbook, a nationally-ranked program from Centerville, Ohio. Instantly I was hooked, and I attended Indiana University as a journalism major with the sole intent of advising high school journalism. It’s been a major part of my life ever since,” Nichols said. Nichols’ dedication shows — she chose to help her students during Rocklin Unified’s furlough week recently. “My aim is to support my students in as many ways possible, and to maintain the caliber of publication my students strive to produce, that involves working beyond regular school hours,” Nichols said. “I baked cookies and cupcakes (for them), but they’re the ones who were hard at work.” The application process for the Journalism Education Association (JEA) National Yearbook Advisor of the Year Award consisted of submitting a portfolio with the answers to 14 essay questions and multiple letters of recommendation. A professional panel from the JEA meets yearly to evaluate the portfolios. “Among other things, the committee considers innovation in yearbook advising, service to state and national journalism organizations, awards and honors the yearbook has received, etc.,” Nichols said. “I had already been named Distinguished Adviser in 2006, and with the encouragement of some journalism colleagues, I decided to submit a portfolio. Earlier this school year I also received JEA’s Medal of Merit award.” Back in 2004, Nichols’ husband, Casey Nichols, the journalism teacher and yearbook advisor at Rocklin High School, won the same award. They are the only couple to have both won the award. Both Casey Nichols and Debra Hawkins, principal of Whitney High School, learned that Sarah Nichols won the award back in November. “I was asked to keep the ‘reveal’ a secret until the team from out-of-state arrived in January,” Hawkins said. “We mutually agreed upon a day when we had a faculty meeting followed by a school board meeting. We did some planning on site to keep the secret and plan for a faculty meeting celebration. Along with the two men from the out-of-state part of the organization, there were several local JEA yearbook advisors who also came to Whitney High School for the celebration.” “She might be the most deserving winner we’ve ever had so it wasn’t surprising in that sense,” Casey Nichols said. “I’m incredibly, incredibly proud of her.” The two of them met during a summer yearbook workshop in 2000 and now they collaborate ideas and teach together over the summer. This year, they will be teaching a workshop in Southern California together. “For me what makes this award so special for Sarah is that she is so much more than just a teacher,” Casey Nichols said. “Sarah richly deserves the honor,” Hawkins said.