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Life & Times columnist and former PGCPS teacher wins national children’s book award

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Posted on: March 9, 2023

Paul Ruffins, the award-winning “Science in the City” columnist with Streetcar Suburbs News, received another award for his writing — this time, for a mystery inspired by his experience teaching special education in Prince George’s County Public Schools and by his own challenges as an African American student with a learning disability. 

Ruffin’s manuscript, The SPED Squad and the Death of Short Bus 4, received a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 2022 On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award. Ruffins noted that the story is intended for middle-grade readers, ages 10 to 14.

The SCBWI established its emerging voices award in 2012 “to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books,” according to its website. 

Ruffins expressed his appreciation for a novel workshop he attended in the summer of 2021: “The improvements I made as a result of going to the Whole Novel workshop helped me win SCBWI’s award,” he wrote in an email. The program was sponsored by the Highlights Foundation, which publishes a children’s magazine, Highlights, and offers a broad range of workshops for children’s book authors and illustrators.

In Ruffin’s SPED Squad story, Adeben Burns is a Black fixer-geek who’s ashamed of being dyslexic in his hyper-literate family. When a stolen bowling ball crashes his school bus into a tree, Adeben and four of his peers form the SPED Squad to expose the culprit. 

Ruffins studied psychology at Harvard and went on to earn master’s degrees in counseling at Columbia and in special education from the Notre Dame of Maryland University. Ruffins’ articles have appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Black Issues in Higher Education, and in all three of Streetcar Suburbs’ newspapers. He is a former senior editor of the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis. 

Ruffins’ “Science of the City” column first appeared in this paper in January 2021. His March 2021 article on skate parks, also published in the Life & Times, garnered a National Newspaper Association award.

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