Spellbinder reporters participate in the 2022 OCJEA write-offs


Maria Alegria

Middle College students, gather around to listen to directions given by journalism advisor, Mrs. Storms at Portola High School in Irvine on Feb. 26.

On Feb. 26, 2022, over 250 students from high schools all around the county gathered at Portola High School in Irvine to participate in OCJEA’s 2022 writing competition. Middle College High School participated for the time this year with students Maria Alegria, Stephanie Cervantes, Andoe Glaser, and Darlyn Romero. 

On the morning of the contest, we arrived at the front of the school and met at the school’s mural of their mascot, a bulldog. We ate a couple of mini muffins and made our way into the school to register.

After registering we went into the student union to the introduction meeting. In the meeting, we were introduced to the organizers of the contest. 

Right after the meeting concluded, we were separated based on our section: features, news, novice news, editorial, sports, and more. The section we were in stayed at the union for a press conference. We were given sheets with facts about the conference which included statements and a timeline of the fictional case. We took out our notebooks and wrote away.

We both had mixed feelings throughout the competition.

Maria’s Perspective 

I felt very anxious and worried because I have never participated in a writing competition. I also had read the directions and noticed that I could not talk to anyone on the way to the writing room or in the room which was intimidating.

 It was difficult to keep up with the speakers as we wrote by hand. Our case was about a teacher who refused to use a student’s preferred pronouns which was based on a real case. There were two people at the conference, the student and a district representative. They gave their initial statement and then the floor opened for questions.

All the student reporters asked great questions capturing different angles of the story. For example, someone asked about how the student felt and another person asked if this was the only case in which the teacher was doing this.

And during the entire contest, there were student reporters competing for photography and they were constantly taking pictures at the press conference. They would get close up and take point-of-view pictures. 

After the half-hour of questioning, we were divided to go to the writing rooms. We were assigned a classroom and given further instructions. We went into the news and editorial section. We were given lined paper and a one-hour time limit to produce an article. 

It felt a bit strange writing by hand after a long time of online assignments. I also struggled to start my article so I skipped my lead and went straight into the facts. The people around me grabbed paper after paper for their story while I finished my first page. I could feel the pressure slowly increasing.

Stephanie’s Perspective 

Considering it was both of our first times attending OCJEA write-offs, we share many of the same feelings. Surrounded by some of the best student journalists in the county who have previously competed and won is definitely nerve-wracking. I’ve been in journalism for three years now, but I still felt unqualified. The competition went by in a blink of an eye, but I definitely came out a better writer.

I learned how to phrase questions in a way that produces the best responses from interviewees. I realized that I shouldn’t rely too heavily on the internet to write my stories because it takes away from my own thoughts and valuable input I could have missed. I definitely left write-offs with a newfound confidence in my writing skills and greater love for journalism.

When the instructor gave the 30-minute warning, I powered through what I had left. I added the quotes I still had and organized my structure. I quickly worked on my lead until I eventually ran out of time and had to put my pencil down. 

Time was called and papers were collected before we were dismissed. Then we waited for the award ceremony to begin. Our wonderful staff writer, Andoe Glaser placed 8th in Editorial qualifying him for the state contest. 

Writing with time pressure and little information was a challenge but a great learning experience for both of us.