North Lakes Academy student claims high honors in essay contest

Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

Battles, creativity and determination were displayed on the State Capitol steps recently, and I’m not talking about the stadium debate.

Several hundred parents, educators, students and state legislators listened to and honored 38 students, ages five to 18, whose essays were judged best from among the 1,857 submitted.

Students were asked to write about a book that made a difference in their life.   Last week they read their winning essays. TCF Bank provided cash cards for the winners.

Elizaveta Anderson of North Lakes Academy in Forest Lake wrote that “The Last Song” by Nicholas Sparks “taught me to treat life like there’s no tomorrow.” The book’s main character is rude to her father and shows only negative emotion towards him until the end, when he’s dying.

“I don’t want my last words with family members to be “I’m mad at you… Today I try my hardest to be more positive toward my family members, not to believe everything I hear and not to regret things that happen…”

Anderson is a junior at North Lakes Academy. She tied for second place in the high school division.

Andrea Boe and Caleb Rieck of Spectrum High School in Elk River tied for second in the high school division.

Boe, an 11th grader, described  the book “Get Me out of Here,” by Rachel Reiland. This book “takes the reader through an agonizing journey of (the author’s) struggles” with Borderline Personality Disorder, which can end in suicide.

Boe courageously described her struggle, “I have been cut down and set back with the unfortunate mental illness of depression and anxiety. …To have Reiland take my hand and guide me through her story gave me hope that only someone else who had suffered could.”

Rieck, a ninth grader, focused on “The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss.” He used the rhyming style that helped make Seuss famous and loved. Rieck wrote in part:

“So if you are thirteen, fourteen, fifteen or more, keep that mind open

And don’t close the door.

Get in your car and drive straight to the store.

Get a Dr. Seuss book, three even four.”

Rieck concluded, “I suggest that you start with a book with a Sneetch,

It will teach you that every person is unique, even me.

I learned all this from Dr. Seuss don’t you see.”

Paige, a junior at Wolf Creek Online Charter High School, based in the Chisago Lakes community, discussed the dramatic impact of reading “Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption” by William Cope Moyers.

She read this when she was 12. It gave her the courage to tell her mother that her father had been molesting her.

“After several court dates and a trial, my father is now in prison for hopefully the rest of his life. I can definitely thank William for helping me to find the courage to tell my mother.”

Shundiin Green, a 10th grader at Wolf Creek, praised Nancy Drew’s “Notebooks: The Scary Stories Sleepover.”  Green and her sister read it together, after her sister came home from the hospital after months of dealing with a brain tumor.

As they read, “I saw her smile a real smile and laugh a real laugh; it truly brought my eyes to tears because I haven’t seen her do that in so long….My sister and I would read this story over and over every single night for months.  This book helped me have hope that with that smile she would make it through another day.”

Not all the essays dealt with topics like depression, cancer or child abuse.

Luke Bjur of New Heights charter in Stillwater wrote, “I have grown up in a house that uses the Bible for all of our rules and our discipline, so, to say the least, it has been in my life for all of my life. This book has given me purpose in life, and it has taught me to treat others well.”

Rep. Sondra Erickson, chair of the Minnesota House Education Reform Committee, and Sen. Gen Olson, chair of the Minnesota Senate Education Committee, praised the young people.

They thanked educators and parents for encouraging reading, and encouraged young people to continue.

This is the sixth year our Center for School Change at Macalester College has run the  writing contest. The award ceremony takes place during National Charter School week.

But the contest is really about celebrating writing, and this year, about reading.  Though there can be great value in the internet, these young people made a vital point.

Books can inspire, challenge, comfort and encourage.

As Rieck wrote, “Get back to your house and crack open the cover, open your mind there are more worlds to discover.”

Joe Nathan, a former public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Macalester College. Reactions welcome, jnathan@macalester.edu.

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