SMSD News: Student and staff shoutouts

We are very proud of students and staff in the Shawnee Mission School District who continue to demonstrate we are #SMSDStrong. Here are a few recent highlights from our school communities.

 High school rankings All of Shawnee Mission School District’s comprehensive high schools have been included on this year’s list of Best High Schools, as published by U.S. News and World Report. Shawnee Mission East, Shawnee Mission North, Shawnee Mission Northwest, Shawnee Mission South, and Shawnee Mission West are ranked among the top schools in Kansas and the nation. The rankings included data on nearly 24,000 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Journalism Riley Atkinson, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School, is the 2021 Journalism Education Association Journalist of the Year, making her the top student journalist in the country. She was also named the Kansas Student Journalist of the year in February by the Kansas Scholastic Press Association. Atkinson is copy editor and online co-editor for the SM East student newspaper. As the top winner, she earned a $3,000 scholarship. We are very proud of Atkinson for achieving this national recognition.

 Additionally, several Shawnee Mission student publications earned Top 100 Pacemaker awards, representing the top 100 publications recognized in the competition during the history of the award. The Pacemaker is the top prize in scholastic journalism and is awarded by the National Scholastic Press Association. Shawnee Mission Northwest, Shawnee Mission North, and Shawnee Mission East’s yearbooks earned Top 10 Pacemaker awards, based on the number of Pacemakers earned. Shawnee Mission East’s newspaper/newsmagazine and online publication and Shawnee Mission Northwest’s newspaper/newsmagazine also received Top 100 Pacemaker recognition.

 Presidential Scholar Chase Horner, a senior at Shawnee Mission South High School, was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar. 161 seniors in the United States were selected for this honor based on academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations, transcripts, leadership, and community service. The Presidential Scholars Class will be recognized for their outstanding achievements this summer.

 Teacher of the Year finalist Natalie Johnson-Berry, an English Language Arts teacher at Shawnee Mission North, is a Region 3 finalist for the 2022 Kansas Teacher of the Year award. This honor was announced in a virtual ceremony in March, hosted by the Kansas State Department of Education. She is eligible to be named Kansas Teacher of the Year, to be announced during a ceremony in September. Each year, every district in Kansas is able to nominate one secondary and one elementary teacher. Crystal Brower, a kindergarten teacher at Shawanoe Elementary and SMSD’s Elementary Teacher of the Year, was also honored for her outstanding work as an educator during the March ceremony.

 SkillsUSA honorees At the spring SkillsUSA Kansas State Championships, a group of Shawnee Mission competitors earned recognition in culinary arts and industrial technology. Norah Pieken, a Shawnee Mission North High School junior, earned a gold medal in commercial baking, and Noah Belcher, a junior from DeSoto who attends SMSD’s culinary program, earned a  gold medal in culinary arts. They are now preparing to compete in the national SkillsUSA competition. Click here to view a list of medalists. SkillsUSA is an education association, including students and teachers, that works to ensure America has a skilled workforce.

 Decoding challenge winners Students in Shawnee Mission’s Biotechnology program were winners of the recent Children’s Mercy decoding challenge. The challenge was issued in 2021 by Children’s Mercy Research Institute. Students were invited to decipher DNA  sequences displayed on the outside windows of the Institute. Congratulations to Biotechnology students and their teachers for solving the sequences and for a successful spring!

 Coca Cola scholar Hananeel Morinville, a senior at Shawnee Mission North High School, was named a 2021 Coke Scholar. She is among 150 high school seniors across the country who will receive a $20,000  college scholarship. Fewer than 1/6th of 1 percent of applicants to this scholarship are chosen to receive this competitive award.

 R&D honorees Shawnee Mission kicked off the month of May with an exciting district-wide event: The R&D Forum. Winners were announced in the inaugural Next Great idea competition, which was hosted in partnership with Startland. Students shared pitch presentations detailing a solution to a problem. Several  student innovators earned top cash prizes for their innovative ideas. Click here to read more  about the honorees. These students were given funds to put their ideas into reality and we look forward to seeing all they accomplish. We also were thrilled to see student projects from across the district entered in the R&D digital showcase. We are grateful to the Regnier Family for 59 years of generous support for the Shawnee Mission School District R&D Forum.

 Princeton Prize The Greater Kansas City Committee of the Princeton Prize in Race Relations is honoring three students from the Shawnee Mission School District. These  students are being honored for their work to advance racial equity and understanding in the Kansas City community. The honorees are Samantha Morinville and Ore Oni, both juniors at  Shawnee Mission North High School, and Laylan Hamid, a Shawnee Mission West High School senior. Morinville and Oni are members of the executive committee of Shawnee Mission North’s Coalition of Racial Equity (CORE). They also have created a college advising program to extend CORE’s reach to middle school students and help them be successful in multiple facets of life. Hamid is being honored for her work to push diversity, equity, and inclusion in school curriculum, and creating spaces for students to have conversations about cultures in her school and abroad. 

 Shooting Stars scholarships Members of the Shawnee Mission Class of 2021 were recognized this spring for their artistic excellence. The Shooting Stars program honors graduating senior artists and arts educators for their artistic achievements with college scholarships, awards, and honorariums.

All Shooting Stars finalists and scholarship recipients were recently announced during the Shooting Stars virtual gala, presented by the Arts Council of Johnson County. Click here for a list of the honorees.

 There are multiple ways you can stay up-to-date on all of the news highlighting students and staff members in the Shawnee Mission School District. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, or watch for stories posted under “recent news” on

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