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 Story and photos by:  David Brighouse

 Teachers Working on Articles

       When high school French teacher Robert Kinch and technology facilitator Joseph Mudrak, both of the Rahway Public Schools, received a prestigious media honor in June of this year from the New Jersey School Public Relations Association (NJSPRA), it represented the first time in the history of the award that anyone from Rahway had been so honored.  On Thursday, October 11, Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak did not merely repeat their earlier performance but improved on their previous accomplishment, winning not one but two awards at last month’s ceremony.  For those counting, the media duo are now three-for-three for contest submissions and awards won.

          The NJSPRA is the state chapter of the National School Public Relations Association, an organization that represents school districts and public relations agencies in an effort to improve school public relations, to provide training to schools and other academic communities in the fields of media and communications, and to cultivate continuing conversations between schools and the communities they represent and serve.

          The School Communications Awards competition that Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak entered recognizes media accomplishments in a wide range of areas broadly related to public relations and communication in schools and other educational arenas.  Both electronic and print materials are considered among the hundreds of entries received each year.  Submissions fall within one of a select number of competition categories, covering topics and media forms as diverse as marketing and branding, social media, videos, websites, special interest publications, and articles with a human interest component.  This year’s distinguished panel of judges comprised a select group of experts and academics specializing in media and communication studies.

          The awards Rahway earned in this most recent competition included a third-place finish in the “Special Interest Publication” category for its coverage of a student protest against gun violence that took place at Rahway High School in March.  The student-run event was held in solidarity with the March 14 National School Walkout in response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.  Second place in the category went to Montville Public Schools, while Union Township Schools in Hunterdon County earned the top spot.

          For their second award, Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak earned recognition in the same category in which they competed in June, the “Media Relations-Human Interest” field, improving on their earlier third-place finish with a second place win.  Their submission was an article written about the Rahway Public Schools’ inaugural full-time Pre-K program that began last year.  The preschool initiative became a reality when the school district secured a prestigious grant from the New Jersey Department of Education worth over $2.7 million in its first year alone.  The funding allowed the district to expand its half-day program of 150 students to a full school day serving over 260.  Rahway beat out Westfield Public School District in the category, which finished in third place.  The first place position went to West Orange.

         Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak have been working together as part of the public schools’ media team now for several years.  Their collaborative efforts have produced dozens of first-rate articles promoting the many good things happening in the Rahway schools and throughout the community.  The two seasoned educators work together by first discussing the articles, ideas, and events they deem newsworthy and then conducting research, interviewing relevant individuals, and gathering other pertinent information.  Following this preliminary work in common, they split up to complete the finished product.  Mr. Kinch writes the final version of the article, while Mr. Mudrak secures photographs, disseminates the story to the news outlets, and handles all relevant aspects of media technology, including the maintenance of all news-related features on the district’s web page.  “The creativity and brilliance of Joe’s photography,” notes Mr. Kinch, “has so often inspired me in the development of our stories.”

         One of the interesting things that Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak pointed out about winning in two categories was that they had no idea until the award announcements at the ceremony itself that they had won for both articles.  “You’re informed that you’ve won something and invited to attend the ceremony,” Mr. Kinch explained, “but you never guess that you might have won more than one award.”

         The NJSPRA October awards ceremony took place at Spigola Ristorante in Hamilton Township.  Attending in support of Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak were Rahway High School mathematics teacher, Leslie Breen, who is a colleague and friend of both men, and the district’s superintendent, Dr. Patricia Camp.  Dr. Camp, in particular, has been a dedicated source of support for Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak since the beginning of their work together.  She was responsible for making them aware of the media contest initially and encouraging them to apply.  She has remained a steadfast ally in their efforts on behalf of the district and in pursuing the NJSPRA recognition for Rahway.

         “After our third-place win in June, Dr. Camp actually paid for us to join the NJSPRA as members,” Mr. Kinch noted.  “This opened up for us a host of other opportunities, including the ability to attend professional development workshops as well as the chance to submit two free entries to all of the organization’s competitions.  This motivated us this past time to find two articles we believed were worthy of consideration.”  Mr. Mudrak added, “Dr. Camp has been so helpful in a variety of ways.  She secured district funding in order to purchase quality media equipment for us to use in our work,  She bought the iPad for me that I am currently using.”

          Dr. Camp herself reciprocated the high praise, saying of their efforts in this latest competition, “Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak are an amazing media team.  They are focused, professional, and very humorous.  I feel Rahway Schools are an underappreciated, hidden gem within Union County, and I hope that Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak know how much they are appreciated for the wonderful and sincere media work they do for our district.”

          Another of Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak’s indispensable supporters is Ms. Tricia Volino-Reinoso, one of the high school’s vice principals, who has worked with them closely on media projects in the past and continues to do so.  After Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak’s first win in June, she suggested at the time that perhaps they could take the momentum from this early success and turn it into future wins in additional categories.  Asked about this prescient observation, she said, “I’m just so happy for the both of them.  Three wins in three attempts is an amazing feat.  And it is the direct result of the talent and passion of Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak.”

          As always, Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak, when asked about all the publicity and awards recognition they have recently enjoyed, minimized the importance of their own role in the matter.  Mr. Kinch quickly expressed his appreciation saying, “It’s a great validation and, of course, very nice to be recognized.”  Mr. Mudrak was equally quick to highlight the students and the district itself.  “These awards are really all about the kids.  It’s completely about the students.  The positive things our students are doing and the ongoing accomplishments of the Rahway Public Schools make it possible for us to do the work we do and create the articles we write in the first place,” he said.

          Still, despite Mr. Kinch and Mr. Mudrak’s obvious efforts to take the attention off themselves, anyone who has ever accomplished anything notable knows the hard work, effort, and sacrifices typically required and the price to be paid for excellence.  The great 18th century English scholar Samuel Johnson, reflecting on the immense difficulties associated with achieving anything worth doing, once wrote, “Those who attain any excellence commonly spend life in one pursuit, for excellence is not often gained upon easier terms.”  For Rob Kinch and Joe Mudrak, however, having just secured their third media win in a single calendar year, it seems as though excellence is fast becoming just another day at the office.