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Ethics Questions Challenge Essay Contestants

Jessica Schick and Samara Martin had different approaches to their entries in the annual Rotary Club of Grandville-Jenison oratory contest.

Jessica chose to write about a bad decision she made: “the only time ever in my life I have been grounded.” Samara chose a good decision.

The Rotary Four-Way Test

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Jessica was “super nervous” reading her essay in front of a crowd; Samara had participated in lots of onstage activities in elementary school, so being under bright lights didn’t faze her much.

“When you’re onstage and the crowd is below you, you can look over their heads,” Samara said.

Both proved to be winning formulas for the Grandville Middle School seventh-graders. Jessica and Samara earned the first and second place, respectively, in this year’s contest.

The contest centers on Rotary’s use of what’s called the Four-Way Test. Rotary has for more than 50 years been using the measurement, which originated with a Michigan member, as a filter to use in making ethical decisions.

The challenge is for students to write about a situation they were involved in, positive or negative, and apply the Four-Way Test to see if they would have made the same decision.

Teacher Sarah Helferich said the middle school has been using the annual contest as part of its narrative writing assessment for at least the 10 years she has been teaching in the district.

Rotarians judge the essays during a live oratory event, held this year on Feb. 4. Students are also evaluated for clarity, volume, sincerity and organization.

Jessica’s winning essay was about the time — last year, in fact, during what she wrote was “the glory days of childhood” — she lied to her father in order to go to the dollar store.

“I typed out my thought process as it was happening, and I remembered I was really nervous talking to my dad,” she recalled.


“As I was writing it, I realized it was almost as if I knew I had a very good reason to be so nervous. Writing out the Four-Way Test, I realized what I did was even worse than I thought it was at the time.”

Samara wrote about buying a band book for a friend whose family could not afford it. “The world is too big of a challenge,” she wrote in her essay. “Maybe I should start local.”

“It was really easy to write because it happened to me, and it was fun sharing it,” she said.

First- through third-place winners are awarded a cash prize, a bookstore gift card and have their names added to a school plaque.


Rotary Club of Grandville-Jenison

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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