COVID educational reporting earns KVPR Edward R Murrow honors

KVPR reporter Soreath Hok wins National Edward R. Murrow Award for 2021 news report on COVID-19 education gap

CLOVIS, CALIF. – Reporters can piece together hundreds of stories in their careers and never be noticed, but for KVPR’s Soreath Hok, she was awarded her first Edward R. Murrow Award. The first ever in the station’s 44 years history. 

KVPR, the San Joaquin Valley’s NPR station, was awarded for a 2021 news report by Hok on the gap between school attendance records and actual student engagement during distance-learning.  The honor was awarded in the category of investigative reporting in the small market radio division. 

“It was such a wonderful surprise,” Hok said after learning of the award on Aug. 11. “Really the pinnacle of my career so far.”

Hok sent California Public Records Act requests to four school districts for reports on daily engagement, weekly engagement and monthly engagement broken down by different schools and grade levels. She was focused on Senate Bill 98 (SB 98) which was a directive from the governor requiring schools to report attendance and student engagement during distance learning.

“I got a range of responses from ‘no, we cannot send it to you’ to ‘here’s everything,’” Hok said.

Once she had the data, Hok narrowed it down to not only one district, school or grade level, but to a single classroom: Rodia Montgomery-Gentry’s 12th grade economics class. According to Hok, Montgomery-Gentry had a typical experience of teachers she spoke to across schools and districts all venting the same frustration. So Montgomery-Gentry became the example she used in the story.

Hok’s investigation uncovered a gap between reported student attendance and actual student engagement during distance learning. Because students could log in but leave their cameras off, they would be recorded as present in class even if they weren’t paying attention. According to Hok, the lack of student engagement was reflected in grades. Failing grades skyrocketed between the 2019-20 in-person school year and the 2020-21 distance learning school year.

Hok says the responses to the story have been empathetic. Most parents and teachers were seeing the same patterns Hok found in the data. 

“Everybody was frustrated,” Hok said. “It kind of validated their frustrations.”

In May, the Radio Television Digital News Association – the organization who judges submissions – awarded KVPR three Regional Murrow Awards in the categories of excellence in writing, hard news and Hok’s piece in investigative reporting. Those that won regional awards automatically advanced to the national competition, where Hok won. KVPR has won Regional Murrow honors four years in a row.

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