By Travis Sloat
It took Nicole Marshall a week of no text messaging or video games to come up with 300 words that she’d like to say to our founding fathers. But she said it was worth it.
“I’d do it all over again,” said Marshall, who is in the eighth grade. “I plan to keep entering the contest for as long as I can, as well as others. It was very challenging.”
Marshall took home $100 and special recognition for her essay, in a contest sponsored by the VFW Post 474. The contest is called “Patriot’s Pen,” and was open to middle school youth around the country.
Sandy Stafford, the VFW Ladies Auxiliary President, said she received 53 essays for the contest and all 53 of them came from Fort Gibson Middle School.
“I sent information to lots of Muskogee area schools,” she said, “but Fort Gibson is the only school that replied. I thought Nicole’s essay was excellent. I passed it on to our review board, and they picked hers out of four finalists.”
The judging is done based on knowledge of the theme, theme development, and clarity of the ideas. Essays had to be at least 300 words, but no longer than 400, and teachers were allowed to supervise students with their progress.
Marshall’s mother, Sandra, said she kept hounding her daughter about the essay until she got it done.
“I just kept telling her to stay on it, stay on it, stay on it,” Sandra Marshall said. “We actually forgot about it for a little while. I don’t want my kids to participate in things to win. I want them participating just for the experience. But when I read her rough draft, I knew it was deep for an eighth-grader.”
The essay focused on the heavy intertwining of religion and politics in the 1850s. The computer Marshall had it saved on crashed right after the entry into the contest, and it is now being tracked down to see if a copy still exists.
Angie Woolbright, the language arts teacher for the middle school, said she worked in tandem with American history teacher Linda Arnett to make sure all of the kids put their best effort into the essay.
“I honestly don’t know too much about our founding fathers,” Woolbright said. “Mrs. Arnett helped from that angle. I taught them the creation of the essay. Nicole has amazing writing ability, and this has boosted her confidence tremendously.”
Arnett agreed she could see a confidence boost in Marshall.
“She carries herself proudly in the halls,” Arnett said. “She’s a very good student, and attentive as well. All of her work has improved since she won the award. She wants more.”
James Cathey, the commander at the VFW Post 474, presented her with the award, and let her know that her check was “in the mail.”
After the presentation, which took place in the Middle School, Arnett and Woolbright stood with Marshall’s mother and applauded while Marshall hugged both Stafford and Cathey.
Marshall said she has big plans for college, attending the University of Arkansas and pursuing a career in journalism.
“I think it will be a fun career,” she said. “I love to write, and this contest meant a lot to me. I really appreciate all the support I’ve received, and I’m ready for another contest.”