For over 20 years, the Vegas PBS KIDS Writers Contest Presented by Janice Allen has given children in grades K-5 in our community the opportunity to express their creativity and build literacy skills, by writing and illustrating their very own stories.
Our annual competition deadline was quickly approaching at the end of March 2020, when COVID-19 halted in-person learning. Once teachers learned they would not be returning to their classrooms with students, Vegas PBS received many requests to extend our writers contest deadline as a low-tech way to engage students in learning at home. We responded by moving the deadline to the end of the school year.
Despite the atypical circumstances, we received 509 story submissions, from places as far away as Italy! Staff scanned the stories into PDFs so our esteemed panel of judges, comprised of writers, librarians, and fellows from the UNLV Black Mountain Institute, could choose the winners from the comfort of their homes.
Typically, we host an in-person awards ceremony for our 18 local winners in studio, but we had to change course in light of COVID. Instead, Vegas PBS staff surprised the young writers with home deliveries of their prizes and trophies. Even though this delighted the winners, we felt we needed to do more to celebrate these exceptional young authors with the community. We decided to convert the in-person awards ceremony into a broadcast event! Using software that records audio and video directly through their webcam, we remotely captured our first place winners reading their stories from home, while our talented editing staff animated their illustrations. Our education staff wrote a whimsical script to summarize the remaining winners in each grade level, and we tapped into popular local radio DJ, Chet Buchanan, to host the program. Chet’s show is a staple in our community and has consistently been one of the highest rated and most beloved radio shows in Las Vegas. He added the perfect amount of exuberance to captivate our audience
We hosted a virtual screening party for winners and their families on the 94th birthday of our donor, Janice Allen. Attendees enjoyed being the first to view the program and Janice was thrilled to congratulate the winners. The event ended with everyone singing her Happy Birthday.
In May 2021, the program won a Pacific Southwest Emmy Award for outstanding achievement in arts and entertainment, long or short format.