Towson High's Colophon staff credits 50 years of success to hard work, camaraderie

In more than five decades of production, Towson High’s Colophon has racked up dozens of awards and even more bragging rights.

Certificates and plaques received by the literary magazines staff from state and national contests are stacked throughout the third-floor classroom of literary adviser Nick Busselman where the after-school club uses the literature teacher’s classroom for meetings and production.

Last month, the Colophon was recognized for the 16th time by the Washington, D.C.- and Illinois-based National Council of Teachers of English, an organization devoted to improving the teaching and learning of English and language arts, according to its website.

The 2017 edition of the Colophon was one of just 26 magazines to receive the organization’s “Highest Award” as part of the 2017 Program to Recognize Excellence in Student Literary Magazines, according to a Baltimore County Public Schools news release.

The literary magazine is among three county school literary magazines to be recognized by the national association of English teachers for their work in 2017, but the only one to receive the top award. Their efforts are recognized only with bragging rights, Busselman said, but are a testament to the club’s hard work.

Judging is done anonymously, but to win the Highest Award, magazines earned more than 91 points in the first round of evaluating by state and national judges. They are later displayed at the NCTE’s national convention and judged by the competition’s advisory committee, according to a rubric provided by NCTE communications director Jenna Fournel.

Franklin High School’s Junto and Randallstown High School’s Impulse received “Excellent” awards, which are given to magazines scoring between 81 and 90 points.

The contest is open to all secondary and middle schools throughout the United States, Canada, the Virgin Islands and American schools abroad. This year’s competition drew entries from 372 magazines which were judged for the quality and variety of content, layouts and themes.

“In writing about Colophon it would be accurate to say that the committee found this magazine exemplary in these categories,” Fournel said in a Jan. 31 email.

The Colophon is produced by a staff of about 35 club members and three faculty advisers, but submissions to the annual compilation of student works are taken from the entire school.

While editors have the final say on what makes it into the magazine’s pages, the end product of a school year’s worth of work is a team effort, according to the magazine’s 2018 editors.

Busselman, who leads the student publication along with teachers Noah Belt and Andrew Freeburger, said the Colophon staff spends the first five to six months of the school year combing through student submissions of art, poetry and short stories. Come spring, the focus turns to pairing literary works with complementary art and designing the final product around the year’s chosen theme. Colophon’s theme in 2017 was “Declarations.”

The design featured signatures of the staff in the front flap cover under a letter from the editors—a design that took hours of tweaking to perfect.

“A lot of the building [of Colophon] is trial and error,” said Belt, an art teacher and art adviser for the magazine. “We may pick a few spreads and then that leads to the design of the book. It gets intense toward the end.”

The magazines are sold under cost for $10, with the roughly $5 difference per book made up through fundraising.

This is done to make sure the magazine remains accessible to the entire student body and to encourage submissions from all students who have a chance to learn without realizing it, said Freeburger, a creative writing teacher and Colophon literary adviser.

“They see their peers published and it adds a different dynamic to the classroom,” Freeburger said. “It has a ripple effect to creativity in the classroom.”

Junior editor Shayna Blinkoff, who will lead the magazine’s staff next school year, said the Colophon has grown over the years from a small pamphlet to a thick magazine, thanks to invested advisers and students.

The club attracts a mix of bookworms and artists who continue to come back each year, according to editor Julia Batavick. “All of us love literature, so getting to see all of these new works before they’re published is so much fun,” the 17-year-old said.

Co-managing editors Oscar Harris and Hannah Weinstein, both of Towson, agreed, adding that the magazine feels like home after a few years. The seniors said they will look to join similar publications in college.

“It feels like family,” Weinstein said.

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