Ellis seventh grader wins Austin Human Rights Essay Contest

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 18, 2003

"If we all take care and respect human rights, we could join together to solve our problems, thus being one global community. After all, why couldn't a peace-filled world be our future?"

Those are the closing words from Ellis Middle School seventh-grader Catherine Monson's article about the importance of appreciating the protection of human rights in America and her wish that those same rights exist worldwide.

Monson was announced the winner of the Austin Human Rights Essay Contest at Monday night's city council meeting. She was one of three finalists vying for an award of a $150 savings bond and the right to have her essay sent to the statewide contest.

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Second place and a $100 savings bond went to Kimy Ounkong; third place and a $50 savings bond went to David Fetzik. All three finalists are seventh graders at Ellis Middle School.

Seventeen students from Queen of Angels and Ellis middle schools sent in articles answering the question, "Why do we have Human Rights Acts such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bill of Rights and the Minnesota Human Rights Act? Are they necessary in the years 2002-2003?" These questions were posed by the League of Minnesota Human Rights Commission for their fifth annual essay contest. This is the first year Austin has participated.

Tricia Wiechmann, liaison for the Austin Human Rights Commission, said she is happy with the amount of entries sent in, especially considering the work was additional to the student's regular classroom duties. She said the perspective of the students was unique.

"I think people don't realize that seventh graders can have the insight that they have," Wiechmann said. "In some aspects, they have a greater understanding than adults. Putting it in simple terms, as a typical seventh grader writes, they hit it right on the head."

Ellis Middle School teacher Robert Wangsness said the essay fit in well with what his students have been studying. Monson said that she has become more aware of the rights of all Americans through her classes and working on the essay.

"I understand more what (our human rights) are about, what they actually are and why we actually have them," she said.

Prizes at the state level are $500 for first, $350 for second and $200 for third, but Wiechmann said the money is secondary.

"For the winner, I think, yes, they win a prize and savings bond, and that's great," she said. "But the best thing is they represent the city as our human right's essay award winner."

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at :mailto:matt.merritt@austindailyherald.com