ESSAY CONTEST: STUDENTS LEARN BY LISTENING TO LIFE STORIES
The Legacy Project is running its 11th annual Listen to a Life Essay Contest. The biggest reward for students — like last year’s Grand Prize winner 10-year-old Vann Barnette — is what they learn about themselves, their family, and even history when they listen to the life stories of a grandparent or grandfriend. The national contest, run in partnership with Generations United in Washington, DC, receives thousands of entries from across the country. Barnette won last year’s Grand Prize of a Lenovo ThinkCentre computer for himself and $25,000 of Orchard educational software for his school. This year’s contest is open to students 8-18 years of age.
Barnette, a grade 4 student at Strawberry Hill Elementary School in Anamosa, IA, learned about a pivotal moment in his maternal grandfather’s life when he interviewed Gerald Udell, 74. He starts his essay by writing, “My Grandpa has done a lot of things such as getting a PhD and testifying in front of members of congress. Despite these accomplishments, the proudest moment of his life is when he made an old man cry.”
He goes on to tell the story of his grandfather’s experience in the South when he enlisted in the army. His buddy was directed to a “Blacks Only” area. Barnette’s grandfather was directed to the “Whites Only” area, but wanted to sit with his friend and stood up for his convictions.
“It wasn’t long before a white policeman was standing in the doorway,” writes Barnette. “But Grandpa said if there is no law against him sitting in the ‘Black’ section, he wished to stay with his friend.”
The story concludes with a touching exchange with an elderly Black man who witnessed what the young soldier had done.
“Vann’s essay was well-written and had an emotional quality that captured the attention of the judges,” says Legacy Project Chair Susan Bosak. “We received so many stories — lighthearted stories about advice from grandmothers to their granddaughters about boys, heart-wrenching stories about experiences during the Holocaust and the Communist Revolution in China, and heartwarming stories about the enduring love of grandparents caring for an ailing spouse. So many lives, so many stories.”
To enter the Listen to a Life Contest, young people 8-18 years interview a grandparent or grandfriend 50 years or older about the older person’s hopes and goals through their life, how they achieved their goals and overcame obstacles, or key life experiences. The young person then writes a 300-word essay based on the interview.
The Grand Prize is a Lenovo ThinkCentre computer with $800 of educational software from Orchard Software. The school of the winning young person also receives $25,000 of Orchard educational software. Twenty runner-up prizes include $400 of Orchard software and an MP3 player.
Entrants in the contest span from Los Angeles to New York. The oldest person interviewed last year was 101 years old, while the youngest entrants were 8 years old.
Many young entrants commented how surprised they were by what they learned. Says 13-year-old Kyle Macdowell from Arlington, TX, “I see my grandma a lot, but not until this contest did I really realize who she is. I never knew about her background or what struggles she has had.”
And many teachers commented how positive the experience was for families. Says Lori Halbison a teacher in Higley, AZ, “I can’t tell you how many thank you’s I received from parents just because they learned more about the grandparent interviewed and it was valuable for the whole family.”
Mary Ann Richter, a teacher with Hamilton City Schools in Ohio, says, “Students set out to learn from the past by interviewing a senior in their community. The results were fantastic, informative stories. It was a great learning experience for senior and student.”
This year’s Listen to a Life Essay Contest runs to March 31.
For complete contest details, previous winning essays, and free online activity ideas, visit www.legacyproject.org.
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