Student journalists recognized for excellence

Chieftain student journalists recognized for excellence
Posted on 05/29/2024
This is the image for the news article titled Chieftain student journalists recognized for excellenceThe Chieftain, the student newspaper for Piscataway High School, recently received two accolades for outstanding achievement in student journalism.

It won the prestigious “Site Excellence” certification from Student News Online, a nationwide student journalism organization. The Chieftain is one of only three NJ student newspapers to have earned this distinction for their redesigned website.

The staff was also recognized on the organization’s “Best of SNO” website, which showcases standout individual examples of student journalism from over 500 participating schools. The honor came for PHS senior Onari Kahandawa’s photo essay “Girl Up Club Produces Positive Post-its for Women's History Month.”

chieftain staff
The Chieftain staff is, from left, Dhivyasree Manimaran, Onari Kahandawa, Reva Gill, Sophia Lojko, Nyasa Bryson, Danika Carranza, Wallace Lau, Roshni Patnaik, Tirth Patel, Elijah Jaiso, Jagger Tinitigan. (Not pictured are Mahi Patel, Arjun Koura, and Nikolai Powis.)

“It has been extremely satisfying to watch The Chieftain grow as an organization each year,” said adviser Adrian Lojko, a PHS English teacher who took over as adviser in 2020. “More than half of the 13 current club members are seniors, and many of them have been here since I took over as adviser. Earning these two awards for excellence in student journalism is a testament to the passion and effort that they have put into The Chieftain over the past few years, and they’ve also helped create a legacy for the new students who are joining the club.”

The Chieftain recently released its third issue of the year, which includes over 20 new student articles, photo essays, podcasts, and reviews. All content is available through a redesigned website at or through a free app, Student News Source. The staff tries to formally release one issue per marking period, but stories are published on a rolling basis.

“Make sure to leave a comment if you like what you’re reading,” Lojko said. “It means a lot to the reporters, editors, and photographers who have worked so hard to putting it together for you.”

chieftain website

Principal Chris Baldassano said the entire PHS staff is proud of The Chieftain and its staff’s accomplishments.

“Their presence is always felt throughout the many events here at PHS, and these awards are reflective of the contribution they have had on student life,” he said. “I cannot wait to watch them continue to grow!”

The Chieftain has two co-editors-in-chief, seniors Danika Carranza and Wallace Lau.

“It feels rewarding that we won these major rewards,” Lau said. “Knowing that the commitment the whole Chieftain staff have put into their work and it actually paying off is satisfying. I envision that the future staff of the Chieftain will accomplish more goals than what we have set this school year. I’m very optimistic about the future of the Chieftain.”

chieftain website

Carranza was inspired by her work with The Chieftain to plan to study journalism at Rutgers.

“Student journalism is important because it means that our voices are heard,” she said. “I loved seeing how the Chieftain really represents what PHS is. It shows the different activities students participate in and the events we hold at our school. I learned that listening to different perspectives is very important to grow as a person. This club has given me many opportunities to talk to other students and administrators that I might not have spoken to.”

onari Kahandawa

Senior Onari Kahandawa was very excited to learn that her photo essay was recognized by Best of SNO.

“Winning these awards is just... wow!” she said. “It feels amazing to know that our hard work and dedication have been recognized. I see the Chieftain continuing to thrive, pushing boundaries, and becoming an even bigger and better platform for student voices.”

best of sno website

When Lojko took over as adviser, he helped to move The Chieftain from a print-based newspaper to a digital publication. He also helped to encourage students in his journalism class to work with The Chieftain.

Since then, the staff has improved the variety, volume, and quality of stories published on The Chieftain. In addition to the traditional school news, sports, and reviews, the site now offers podcasts, photo essays, video interviews, and unique columns, such as the “PHS Ethicist.”

“I am also extremely proud of how much the photography abilities of The Chieftain reporters have improved over time,” Lojko said. “As an avid photo hobbyist, I understand that a good photo tells a story, and photography requires not just technical ability but also an ability to ‘see the shot’ before it happens.”

chieftain website

He credits the work of three seniors, Wallace Lau, Tirth Patel, and Arjun Koura, with demonstrating the skills they have honed over the years as staff photographers.

“I learned a shocking amount about photography,” said Koura. “I went from never holding a camera before to learning how to use proper techniques when photographing. The equipment was very beginner friendly with major room to improve, and Mr. Lojko taught me a lot about the basics.”

Koura is also planning to study journalism, at The College of New Jersey.

“I think The Chieftain is only going improve from here,” he said. “Mr. Lojko talked about establishing a pipeline where journalism students at PHS would learn from alumni in the field who attend college. I know he talked to Danika about doing something with her experience in journalism at Rutgers, and he also talked to me about doing a similar thing, coming in and talking to the Chieftain journalists about future careers and helping them improve.”

chieftain staff

Lojko said the recognition for excellence will help The Chieftain in the future, as underclassmen move up and new members come onboard.

“At the end of every year, we reflect on how we can grow as an organization, and next year’s focus will be on continuing to grow our social media presence.

“We’re not done yet!”