Middle schoolers witness patriotism in essay contest

Published 5:30 pm Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jacob Leverington hadn’t thought about writing before, and he certainly had never won any sort of contest, or so he said.

Yet he was one of 15 Ellis Middle School winners of this year’s VFW Patriotic Pens Essay contest. Even better, he placed third in the VFW Southeast Minnesota District competition.

There are 115 VFW Patriotic Pen Essay contest winners at Ellis Middle School this year. In no particular order: Cally Heiny, Kaitlyn Schammel, Noah Lund, Trenton Brown, Diana Magana, Nathan Kestner, Destiny Turvold, Annaliese Kreuer, Qiah Baxter, Nate Rees, Marissa Lund, Jacob Leverington, Emma Kleis. Not pictured are Ezekiel Peters and Issac Wollersheim. - Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

“I thought I had a pretty good chance of winning,” Leverington said. “I really liked what I wrote and I thought everybody else would.”

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Ellis has participated in the VFW’s contest since it was formed in the 1960s, according to Cheryl Dunlap, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Ellis. Each year, sixth grade students write a personalized essay on a topic concerning patriotism set by the VFW. They can interview family members who previously served in the military or local veterans they might know as well, in order to write how patriotism affects us all.

“Patriotism is important,” Dunlap said.

About 320 students answered the question, “Does patriotism still matter?” this year, and about 160 students entered the VFW contest. Everyone who participated the contest received a $2 bill and the winners each received $10.

Sixth-grader Jacob Leverington and Al Landherr of the VFW Post 1216 in Austin during the VFW presentation of this year’s Patriotic Pen Essay winners at Ellis Middle School. Leverington is one of 15 winners at Ellis and placed third at the VFW District competition. - Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Many of the winners were surprised they won, although they had worked hard on their essays and learned much about what it means to be patriotic.

“(We learned) how our grandfathers, in their past lives would go,” said Qiah Baxter. “How they past away, what they did.”

The school’s winners will have dinner with their families, their social studies teachers and local veterans at the VFW in Austin to commemorate their win. The lessons they’ll take with them will last longer, however.

“There’s still people fighting for our freedom,” said Ezekiel Peters, one of the winners. “They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t have love and respect for our country.”