Senator Kissel Honors Windsor Locks Student Essay Writers

April 18, 2012

Article as it appeared in the Reminder News on April 12, 2012

Did you know Nathan Hale went to Yale at the age of 14? Did you know that Katherine Hepburn’s brother died tragically while attempting a difficult magic trick?

Eighty students at Windsor Locks Middle School have spent the last two weeks researching and writing a 300-word essay about a historical figure from Connecticut who they think should never be forgotten. This social studies/language arts collaboration project charged the students with choosing a person to write about, researching their subject and then writing a thought-provoking essay which would be judged on several different criteria.

The essay contest was initiated by state Sen. John Kissel (R-7) in 2009, and he was in attendance on April 11 to present certificates to this year’s sixth-grade winners.

“Encouraging our young people to be effective communicators is a very important aspect of their education,” Kissel said. “Through these contests, we get to shine a light on local students and recognize their hard work.” He also sees it as a way to bring together communities.

“Many famous people of Connecticut have made significant contributions to the history of our nation and the state,” said Cassandra Szajac-Naylor, a language arts teacher at the middle school.

In this modern research project, the students used the internet almost exclusively, but Szajac-Naylor said there was still a strict eye on accuracy. “They had to research using the computer lab,” she said, and added that there really weren’t enough copies of books available in the school library for each of the 80 children to check one out.

Some of the essay topics were Connecticut martyr Nathan Hale, baseball player Bobby Valentine, actor Justin Long, and Gov. Ella Grasso.

“I thought that they were amazing,” said Szajac-Naylor. “It was interesting to see the things they found out that they felt were important.”

Besides learning about important historical figures, Szajac-Naylor said this event encouraged the students to put their best effort forward and for the community to see education in action. “The ceremony was a bridge between school and community where children’s work was the focus and was celebrated. The students saw the power of their words acknowledged by leaders, educators, family and friends. This experience will help them continue to explore their voice as writers,” she said.

In the end, seven students were selected to be honored as having the winning essays, along with seven runners-up.

Also in attendance were Superintendent of Schools Wayne Sweeney and Carissa Pape from 360 Federal Credit Union, which contributed monetary awards to the winners.

Kissel plans to hold the contests annually in Windsor Locks and Enfield, and possibly in additional north-central Connecticut towns. Szajac-Naylor said that this will be an ongoing yearly event at Windsor Locks Middle School.