First Prize

2021 Features (Large Newsroom) Winner

Casey Parks, The New York Times Magazine

The Tragedy of America’s Rural Schools

About the Winner

After her mother died in 2018, Casey Parks knew she wanted to write about rural schools. In January 2019, she began reporting on rural Mississippi for “The Tragedy of America’s Rural Schools.”

Parks shadowed a superintendent, James Henderson, and met student Harvey Ellington. “Initially, I thought I would follow Henderson and Harvey for nine months. I flew down once a month, but the pandemic changed schools, and it changed my story,” Parks said.

Comments from the Judges:

“This was a thorough and heartbreaking look at the challenges rural school districts face. The story of one child, one superintendent and one county school district struggling for years for the very basic tools to learn and teach was beautifully told.​”

What a devastating story. Finding Harvey Ellington was an inspiration. And then…giving him space to speak for himself … that really worked. The use of numbers is also really smart.”