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Downes Wins Nat'l Award

"The books she advises are among the best in the country."

For years, Chantilly High's yearbook, "Odyssey," has won national awards. Now, the woman behind its success — yearbook adviser Mary Kay Downes — is receiving national acclaim of her own.

Downes, who teaches English and photojournalism at Chantilly, was just named the 2007 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year by the Journalism Education Association (JEA) for her work as Chantilly's yearbook adviser for the past 20 years. The award includes $1,000 to Chantilly's yearbook department.

"ODYSSEY" has won every top award in the country, including Pacemaker from the National Scholastic Press Association and Gold Crown from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

"I am very rarely at a loss for words," said an emotional Downes, Monday afternoon, to a packed auditorium at Chantilly High during a ceremony in her honor. "I can't understand how you kept this secret."

The auditorium was filled with family, friends and local school officials, plus JEA representatives — some of whom even flew in from Indiana and California. According to Linda Puntney of the JEA, "Downes has been a big part of national journalism circles for a long time. Her influence is everywhere."

During her tenure as adviser to the Odyssey, the yearbook has won multiple Pacemaker awards and Pacemaker finalist awards from the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA), has twice received the Virginia High School League (VHSL) Charles Savedge Award for continued excellence, has won multiple Crown Awards from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA), and earned multiple Trophy Class ratings from the VHSL.

The yearbook also played an integral part in numerous Wachovia Cup awards for Chantilly High. Odyssey was even named to the NSPA Hall of Fame, and its many accolades are due in great part to Downes.

"I think she's a teacher's teacher," said H.L. Hall of the national JEA. Noting that there are 20,000 different school yearbooks in the U.S., he said, "The books she advises are among the best in the country. She's taught a fantastic number of yearbook advisors around the country."

BRETT ZINGER, Chantilly's newspaper advisor, said, "We can't underestimate her influence on the school. She uses everything she knows to help [Chantilly]."

Catherine Fratter, mother of three of Downes' former editor-in-chiefs, said that, for nine years, Downes served as mentor, cheerleader, coordinator, adviser, enforcer, supporter, travel agent and mom away from home to her children.

Earning a Master Journalism Educator certification from the JEA, Downes has also been honored as the Special Recognition Yearbook Adviser and Distinguished Yearbook Adviser by the JEA and received a Gold Key from the CSPA, the NSPA Pioneer Award, and the Douglas Freeman and Thomas Jefferson Awards from the Virginia Association of Journalism Teachers and Advisers.

An FCPS employee for 26 years, Downes has taught at Chantilly since 1987 and currently serves as English Department chair. She's also been president of the Columbia Scholastic Press Advisers’ Association and of the Association of Fairfax Professional Educators.