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‘That is why I am proud of America’

Thornapple Kellogg Middle School students move on to state, national levels of Elks Essay competition


Eighth-graders Dylan LeClaire, Molly Shepard and Casey Lopez sat in the principal’s office, waiting to hear why they got called down.

“Why do you think you are in the office?” eighth-grade history teacher Rojean Sprague asked them.

It wasn’t until a visit from Alma Czinder, the Americanism essay chair for the Elks Lodge in Hastings, that the students realized why they had been singled out.

For the second year, Thornapple Kellogg students had the chance to enter in the national Elks Grand Lodge Americanism Essay Contest. This year’s competition, focusing on “What makes America great?,” yielded impressive results. After the essays by Molly, Casey and Dylan were evaluated against entries from other districts, all three essays went to the state level, with Dylan’s essay taking first place and moving to the national competition.

“This wasn’t an assignment that they were forced to do,” Sprague said. “They did this on their own time outside of class, which is impressive in itself.”

Inspired by History

Molly chose to write about what she is grateful for, taking inspiration from those who have served in the armed forces.

“I wrote about how I was proud of America because of the people that served for us, for our rights,” she said. “I talked about all of our rights like going to school and sleeping safe at night.”

Casey chose to write about what America meant to her on a personal level.

“Everything I wrote I know that I wrote straight from the heart,” she said.

Dylan, whose essay will be moving on to the national competition in July in St. Louis, Missouri, wrote about independence.

“I wrote a lot about fighting for our independence and how everything that we have fought for has done so much good for the country,” he said. “It was really a lot of fun.”

He writes in part, “America was built on the foundation that everybody was equal. Although we have gone through many rough times and debates, we are getting closer to a dream that no other country has come close to. We have fought for our dreams, we have run the race diligently, and we are striving to make even a better society for future generations of Americans.”

Czinder, the Elks’ essay chair from Hastings, was impressed with all the essays received, and sais she  is glad to see Thornapple Kellogg students recognized. Czinder said she believes this is the first time a TK essay has won at the state level.

“What Makes You Proud of America” by Dylan LeClaire

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Hannah Lentz
Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit.

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