PJHS students sweep MLK essay contest

February 15, 2014

Joseph Pratt

PDT Staff Writer

Students at Portsmouth Junior High School recently swept the Ohio University Southern essay writing competition, where they had to write about notable human rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.. Students eligible for entry in the contest had to be in the age group of sixth to eighth grade. The contest had three places, first, second and third. PJHS students placed in each category, making Portsmouth the only school to win.

Dr. Hayley Haugen is an assistant professor of English and the faculty coordinator at Ohio University Southern. Haugen wrote the guidelines and premise of the essay contest and also went through many of them herself. Her goal was to attract students to not only write about King, but research the famous humanitarian and learn even more.

“Basically, we are hoping the students have a sense of who Martin Luther King is as a leader and that they have some familiarity of his writing and not just his leadership. We do ask the students to have read his work and pull from some of his writing,” she said.

This year, Haugen made a twist in her essay prompt that required students to compare a modern person’s work and philosophy to King. Haugen said that she received many different responses to her prompt with a variety of names —one even dedicating an essay to U2’s Bono.

Ronda Williams, seventh grade English teacher at Portsmouth High School, is ecstatic that her students placed first, second and third in the essay contest. All of Williams’ students wrote on the topic, but only 23 of them entered the competition.

“They were inspiring, because it was a really hard prompt. They had to take a modern leader and compare them to Martin Luther King Jr. and relate how they are carrying out King’s vision in today’s world,” Williams said. “I didn’t give them any names. I just told them to get on the computer and search. I was really amazed with all of the different people they came up with.”

Williams said that she encourages not only her students, but all students to apply for essay competitions because it is not only a good experience, but something they can put on a resume.

Third place winner was Jaden Nuckols, with her essay on Marian Wright Edelman. Nuckols said in her letter that she believes Nuckols represents King quote of, “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

Nuckols said that she learned a lot from writing the essay and was happy to learn she won, because she was unsure of herself.

“I think winning contests helps with my writing and I would like to do more. I’m glad I got the chance to enter!”

Second place winner went to Kellie Blevins, who wrote her essay on Cynthia McKinney, first African-American woman to be elected into the House of Representatives.

“She is a congresswoman who has charities and fundraisers who fights for equality and stuff like that. I wrote about her, because she was the most interesting person I found,” she said.

Blevins said that she liked that McKinney has tried and is trying to run for Presidency.

“There has only ever been one African-American President and ladies have always tried, but haven’t really succeeded. I think maybe she has a better chance, because she has accomplished a lot in her life,” she said.

Blevins said that she would most definitely vote for McKinney in an election to the White House.

First place winner went to Jaden Morris, who wrote his essay on the Governor of Massachusetts, Deval L. Patrick. Morris’s essay also brings up the inequality we have today. He writes, “If people are still taking action, why hasn’t our nation seen equality for all? Martin Luther King, Jr. noticed it; why haven’t we? If he had a dream for a bright future, then are we still living in the past?”

One point Morris makes is that same-sex marriage is still not legalized, making marriage unequal.

“He is a governor of Massachusetts, so of course he has a big impact on them, but what he is doing might influence those around him,” Morris said. “I think we are all equal; we’re all human, we should all have the same, equal rights. There shouldn’t be any segregation and I feel like he is doing the right thing,” he said.

All of the winning students won an OU t-shirt, a framed certificate and a cash prize.

“It was very exciting to get the news. I’m very proud of them for following the prompt. I gave them an essay planner early on and had them work through it; I was just proud of them for doing that. All I did was edit the grammar parts of the essay, I did not change content. I think I was really amazed at the potential that the seventh graders have shown by doing the exact same prompt the high school students had and even ended up with some winning essays,” Haugen said.

Joseph Pratt can be reached at the Portsmouth Daily Times at 740-353-3101 EXT 287 or on Twitter @JosephPratt03.