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March 16, 2006

Teen wins award for stories


SPRINGFIELD - Hurricane Katrina made Samantha Perez a contradiction.

The 17-year-old Louisiana girl is both a victim and a survivor, an optimist living amid disaster.

Yesterday she also became a celebrated high school journalist when she was honored at the American International College Scholastic Press Forum for her first-hand accounts of the storm's aftermath for Tattoo, an independent teen-written newspaper based in Connecticut.

Perez received "The Professor Mel Williams Award" at the forum which showcased the work of high school newspapers from Vermont to Ohio.

"Katrina has opened a lot of doors for me," said Perez, who flew on an airplane for the first time on her way to receive the award. She stayed in a hotel with "endless" hot water for the shower - a far cry from the trailer she lives in back home provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"I never imagined I would be standing here," she said.

It's been an arduous road.

Perez first heard about Katrina after her high school's first football game of the season. Perez and her family temporarily left their home in St. Bernard Parish before the worst of the hurricane hit. As the storm made landfall, the busy plans of a teenager in the throes of senior year quickly took a detour.

In her columns for Tattoo she reported, "Our home is gone. We have nothing now. ... They won't allow news crews to film to show footage of my parish because of all the bodies floating in the rivers that used to be our streets."

But beyond the horrific, Perez's accounts of how Katrina catapulted ordinary teenage life into the surreal also resonated with readers, said Steve Collins, one of Tatoo's editors.

Perez said she understands that her life has changed forever. Still she looks forward to graduating high school and going to college. Her family is building a home on the same lot in her parish.

"I know now that what doesn't kill me makes me stronger," she said.

Other award winners included, The Putnam Press of the Roger L. Putnam Vocational High School for best small newspaper and best designed small newspaper.

The Longmeadow Jet Jotter and the Ludlow High School Cub won for best newspaper and The Ludlow High Paw won for best designed literary magazine.

The Muse from Quaboag Regional in Warren and The Gallery from Hoosac Valley High won for best magazine.

Samantha Perez's journal can be read at

Link for The Republican's story:

Teen wins award for stories


Click here to read Samantha Perez's Hurricane Journals

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