Essay Contest Could Be ‘Life-Changing’
By: Diana T. Barth
This holiday season, it is almost guaranteed that one topic will be under discussion in the homes of almost every Bourne elementary school student.
The Bourne PTA is sponsoring an unprecedented essay contest for James F. Peebles and Bournedale Elementary students in grades 1 through 4. PTA flyers are going out challenging students to answer a question that will make family discussion necessary: “You have 2 airplane tickets to anywhere in the country. Tell us whose life you will change for the better with those tickets and how.”
The children will need to write about a real person, because the kicker to the contest is that, while the student who writes the best essay will receive a $50 gift certificate to Friendly’s, the person about whom that student writes will actually be given the tickets.
The student and his or her family must personally know the person nominated to receive the tickets, said Lawrence E. Palmer, the Bourne PTA’s membership chairman and a Southwest Airlines pilot. That person must be able to travel before the ticket expires in November of next year.
A child might write, for example, about “Uncle John who lives in Nebraska and has never seen the ocean,” Mr. Palmer said, “or about the family up the street that has not seen their dad in a year because he is stationed in California, and money is tight.”
“I am really looking forward to reading the results,” he said.
Mr. Palmer and his wife, Elise, are the parents of two Bournedale Elementary School students, Alexandra, a 2nd grader, and Dylan, who is in 4th grade. Mr. Palmer became active with the PTA and with the schools’ literacy program, Books and Beyond, volunteering many hours to PTA-sponsored events.
The essay contest came about because Mr. Palmer also participates in a Southwest Airlines program that encourages employees to volunteer.
Through that program, for every 40 hours Mr. Palmer donates to a nonprofit corporation, that organization receives a free ticket to anywhere Southwest flies. Mr. Palmer has accrued enough hours to ensure that the Bourne PTA receives two free airline tickets.
In talking with fellow PTA members about how to use the tickets, he said he hoped to see them go to someone who needed them, as opposed to, say, raffling them off to the highest bidder.
It was Heather A. M. DiPaolo, a former Bourne library trustee and a PTA contact person at Peebles School, who came up with the idea for the essay contest. That contest became a joint effort of the PTA, the airline, and Friendly’s restaurants.
Bournedale assistant principal and teacher Elizabeth A. Carpenito, who also works at Peebles, said that any opportunity for children to write about something out of the ordinary and outside their everyday routine is good. It piques their interest and makes them think. This particular opportunity, however, is “huge,” she said. It does more than provide a good topic. It encourages students to talk with family members, delving into their own and their family’s lives, hoping to help fulfill someone else’s dream.
While this contest is limited to elementary school students, Mr. Palmer is still accruing volunteer hours and come spring, a similar contest may be considered for middle schoolers.
As to the essay, itself, although the family may weigh in on the student’s choice of nominee, the composition must be the child’s. It has to be 500 words or fewer and must be handwritten. Typed essays will not be considered.
Discussion of the idea may be inevitable as families talk about it over winter vacation, but the students do not necessarily have to write it then. However, entries need to be into the main office of each of the two schools by 3 PM on January 20.
Each essay needs to be put into a sealed envelope and given directly to the office or to the child’s teacher. While the schools need to know who submitted an essay, the contest judges will not know. For more information on the rules, Mr. Palmer can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.
The contest winner will be announced in February, giving a panel of judges two weeks to determine the winner.
Winners aside, if nothing else, the contest should ensure that Bourne’s elementary school students will be focusing on the wants and dreams of others over this coming holiday.
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