Here’s the whole story from today’s issue of The Daily Star of Hammond, Louisiana:
Budding journalist wins national award
By Don Ellzey
Hardships caused by Hurricane Katrina are proving beneficial to a talented senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond.
Samantha Perez, daughter of Ralph and Janet Perez of St. Bernard Parish, was been awarded the Professor Mel Williams Award at the 36th annual Scholastic Press Forum held in Springfield, Mass. The Mel Williams Award was the top prize in the journalism contest sponsored by American International College of Springfield.
Samantha received the honor based on stories of her hurricane evacuee experiences that she submitted to The Tattoo, an independent newspaper written for, and by, teenagers. The newspaper is based in Connecticut.
Not only did Hurricane Katrina provide the background for Samantha to win the writing award, but since September, she has attended three different high schools, making new friends and having new experiences.
As Hurricane Katrina was approaching the Louisiana coast, Samantha and her family evacuated to Bossier City. They lost their home and belongings to the flooding.
At the time, she was a senior at Archbishop Hannan High School in St. Bernard Parish. She will graduate from Hannan on May 20 during a commencement ceremony at Tulane University.
From Bossier City, she enrolled at the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts at Natchitoches. From there, it was to St. Thomas Aquinas in Hammond in October.
Samantha said she loves St. Thomas.
“The administration is wonderful, and the other students made me feel perfectly welcome,” she said.
She learned that the principal, Jose Becerra, is a native of St. Bernard.
Samantha said St. Thomas offers courses she would not have had access to at Archbishop Hannan, considered to be a top quality high school. She said the academic atmosphere at St. Thomas can be described only as excellent.
“I’ve made a lot of new friends here, many of which I hope to be going to Southeastern with,” she said.
She learned about The Tattoo while scanning the Internet seeking news about conditions in St. Bernard. The newspaper wanted teen writers who could document their hurricane experiences.
Samantha submitted an article. It so impressed the editors that she has been writing for the newspaper ever since.
The newspaper is also published online at readthetattoo.com, she said.
All of the dozens of articles she has submitted have been about her hurricane experiences. Samantha said she has written mostly about people and how the hurricane affected their lives and the lives of their families. The articles were intended to inform people from outside the Gulf Coast area about the destruction and human tragedy caused by the hurricane.
Her articles in The Tattoo have triggered reactions from readers throughout the country and the world. Samantha says she has received clothes, coats, toiletries such as shampoos, toothpaste and other items that most people take for granted.
“I had an e-mail from a girl from Ireland who wanted to know if there was any way she could help,” Samantha said. “I also had an e-mail from the Denver Post offering to help me and my family.”
She said The Tattoo is a not-for-profit newspaper that exists to give teens an opportunity to write and gain writing experience. She has also made friends with other teens who write for the paper.
Samantha has a summer job lined up at Pelican Publishing Co. in Gretna. She plans to enroll at Southeastern Louisiana University this fall and major in English. Her career goal is to eventually become an editor at a major publishing house.
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Copyright 2006 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.