In a year where many publication staffs never even met face-to-face, amazingly, the total number of SNO Distinguished Sites hit a new high.

SNO recognized 67 student publications as distinguished sites, compared to 63 last year, and awarded 242 publications with at least one badge.

Upon tallying up these final numbers, we here at SNO were left with one nagging question:

In a year with so many competing stressors, why did more schools than ever prioritize participating in the SNO Distinguished Site program?

So, being the journalists we are, we went straight to the source to find out.

One common theme we heard from participating schools, including the staff of West Side Story at Iowa City West High School, was that the badge requirements acted as a grounding tool during an otherwise overwhelming school year.

“Between publishing timely and accurate COVID-19 coverage and our usual in-depth reporting of school and local news, it would’ve been easy for our staff to ignore factors like the design of our homepage or our use of multimedia,” said Sara Whittaker, faculty adviser of West Side Story. “Working towards each SNO Distinguished Site badge allowed us to refocus on the principles of strong digital journalism.”

Dan Falkner, faculty adviser of The Jesuit Chronicle at Jesuit High School, found that the same was true among his students.

“With the pandemic weighing heavily upon us all, the SNO Distinguished Sites Recognition Program offered Jesuit Chronicle a galvanizing focus toward which to direct our efforts,” Falkner said. “Students enjoyed striving to meet tangible goals while also referencing the Best of SNO for inspiration and to understand the broad high school journalism community.”

Others took pride in providing a virtual means of connection for their local communities during seemingly endless periods of quarantine.

“In a year when our school community was feeling isolated, it was more important to us than ever to cover this year and be a unifying presence for our student body,” said Julia Satterthwaite, faculty adviser of El Estoque at Monta Vista High School.

Not only did the badges help facilitate community unification, but inner-staff connection as well, as exemplified by the staff of The Wildcat Tribune at Dougherty Valley High School.

“Cross-communicating with so many people across our newspaper to get SNO badges also helped to virtually unite us, and we realized that this program is more than getting a badge or a certification,” Mahika Arya, web manager of The Wildcat Tribune, said. “It’s about wanting to get our voices heard in a difficult time, and that desire is what constantly inspired us to greater heights in the Distinguished Site program.”

Most of all, it appears that earning individual badges and that final Distinguished Site plaque gave participants something to celebrate during a year where so much was taken away.

“Because we had to work hard to get each badge, each success along the way was a victory just when we needed something to celebrate!” Kari Koshiol, faculty adviser of the Knight Errant at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, said.

Ellen Cowhey, faculty adviser of Tower at The Masters School, added that the instant gratification from earning the badges was particularly rewarding for students.

“The return and reward for submitting student work to SNO is way higher than most other scholastic contests because they are getting that feedback in real time and it not only motivates the individual student, but their peers as well,” Cowhey said.

Whatever their “why” was, each of these 67 publications hit a major journalistic milestone this year, and for that, deserve to be celebrated.

This year’s complete list of SNO Distinguished Sites: 

Scot Scoop News (Carlmont High School, Belmont, Calif.); The Sage (Sage Creek High School, Carlsbad, Calif.);  El Estoque (Monta Vista High School, Cupertino, Calif.); Portola Pilot (Portola High School, Irvine, Calif.); The Boiling Point (Shalhevet High School, Los Angeles, Calif.); Amador Valley Today (Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, Calif.); LHS Epic (Lynbrook High School, San Jose, Calif.); The Wildcat Tribune (Dougherty Valley High School, San Ramon, Calif.); CavsConnect (Coral Gables Senior High School, Coral Gables, Fla.); Hagerty Journalism (Hagerty High School, Oviedo, Fla.); RHStoday (Robinson High School, Tampa, Fla.); The Stampede (Wiregrass Ranch High School, Wesley Chapel, Fla.); The Southerner (Henry W. Grady High School, Atlanta, Ga.); The Prowler (Starr’s Mill High School, Fayetteville, Ga.); Metea Media  (Metea Valley High School, Aurora, Ill.); The Blueprint (Downers Grove South High School, Downers Grove, Ill.); AHSneedle (Atlantic High School, Atlantic, Iowa); Spartan Shield (Pleasant Valley High School, Bettendorf, Iowa); The Little Hawk (Iowa City High School, Iowa City, Iowa); West Side Story (Iowa City West High School, Iowa City, Iowa); BVNWnews (Blue Valley Northwest High School, Overland Park, Kan.), The Booster Redux (Pittsburg High School, Pittsburg, Kan.); PLD Lamplighter (Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Lexington, Ky.); The Lance (Linganore High School, Frederick, Md.); The Green Wave Gazette (Abington High School, Abington, Mass.); The Northern Light (Portage Northern High School, Portage, Mich.); The Lantern (Cannon Falls High School, Cannon Falls, Minn.); OHS Magnet (Owatonna High School, Owatonna, Minn.); Knight Errant (Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, St. Louis Park, Minn.); The Echo (St. Louis Park High School, St. Louis Park, Minn.); The Rubicon (St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, Minn.); The Vision (The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, Columbus, Miss.); Pathfinder (Parkway West High School, Ballwin, Mo.); The Messenger (Marquette High School, Chesterfield, Mo.); The Kirkwood Call (Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.); LHS Today (Wentzville Liberty High School, Lake St. Louis, Mo.); PattonvilleTODAY (Pattonville High School, Maryland Heights, Mo.); FHN Today (Francis Howell North High School, St. Charles, Mo.); The Wildcat Roar (Westminster Christian Academy, Town and Country, Mo.); The Catalyst (Millard West High School, Omaha, Neb.); Lancer Spirit Online (Londonderry High School, Londonderry, NH); The Declaration (Colonia High School, Colonia, NJ); Tower (The Masters School, Dobbs Ferry, NY), Maroon (Scarsdale High School, Scarsdale, NY); The Leaf (Sycamore High School, Cincinnati, Ohio); The La Salle Falconer (La Salle Catholic Preparatory, Milwaukie, Ore.); The Jesuit Chronicle (Jesuit High School, Portland, Ore.); The BA Blueprint (Bellwood-Antis High School, Bellwood, Pa.); The Purbalite (Baldwin High School, Pittsburgh, Pa.); Mountaineer (Stroudsburg High School, Stroudsburg, Pa.); Eagle Eye News (Tyrone Area High School, Tyrone, Pa.); The Uproar (North Allegheny Senior High School, Wexford, Pa.); The Central Digest (Chattanooga Central High School, Harrison, Tenn.); The Dispatch Online (James Bowie High School, Austin, Texas); The Shield (McCallum High School, Austin, Texas); Westwood Horizon (Westwood High School, Austin, Texas); The Wolfpack (Cedar Park High School, Cedar Park, Texas); Coppell Student Media (Coppell High School, Coppell, Texas); Wingspan (Liberty High School, Frisco, Texas); The Review (St. John’s School, Houston, Texas); Cain Live (Klein Cain High School, Klein, Texas); The Red Ledger (Lovejoy High School, Lucas, Texas); The Rider Online (Legacy High School, Mansfield, Texas); Eagle Nation Online (Prosper High School, Prosper, Texas); Valley Ventana (Smithson Valley High School, Spring Branch, Texas); The Voice of the Wildkats (Willis High School, Willis, Texas); The Standard (The American School in London, London, United Kingdom).