Several Springfield Platteview Community Schools students and three district teachers can add “award-winner” to their resumes after a recognition banquet held last week.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9558 announced winners of the Patriot’s Pen essay contest and Voice of Democracy speech contests Jan. 8 at the Springfield American Legion Hall. Three Teacher of the Year awards were also announced during the banquet.
The event recognized winners from both Springfield Platteview and Louisville Public Schools. It was the first year for Voice of Democracy entries from Louisville students.
“This program should be looked at as building blocks for the kids,” said Jim Jenson, chairman for youth activities. “First they compete in the Patriot’s Pen contest in junior high, then they go to the Voice of Democracy in high school, then they go off to college and come home to teach and win Teacher of the Year.”
The Patriot’s Pen contest requires students to write 300 words on a particular topic. This year’s competition saw 159 students from SPCS writing essays on the theme “What Patriotism Means To Me.”
From those submissions, 15 were chosen by their teachers to be sent to the VFW, and members then narrowed it down to three eighth-grade winners and three seventh-grade winners.
The seventh-grade winners were Katelyn Grubb in first place, Nick Adkins in second and Lauren Newstrom in third.
“I have a lot of relatives that served, so I could relate to the topic,” Grubb said.
Grubb said her essay explained that patriotism is on display every day and is not reserved for holidays like the Fourth of July.
“I like to write,” she said. “My first draft was about 450 words. I had to cut it down.”
The winners from Platteview Central Junior High’s eighth-grader submissions were Cally Rogers in first place, Braedyn Lenker in second and Sloane Agustus in third. Rogers’s essay also came in third for District 10, which encompasses all of Douglas and Sarpy counties.
The Louisville winners were Raylee Stohlmann in first place, Valerie Knott in second and Jed McFarland in third. VFW Post 2280 from Bellevue judged the Louisville entries.
While Patriot’s Pen targets junior high students, the Voice of Democracy competition is aimed at high schoolers and requires entrants to present a three-to-five-minute speech. This year’s topic was “Why I Am Optimistic About Our Nation’s Future.”
Louisville’s winners were Megan Knott in first place and Katelynn Zeluf in second.
Platteview High School’s winners were Colleen Anderson in first place, Stacie Bartels in second and Susan Sherman in third.
After picking up her award, Anderson was asked to read her winning speech to the assembled crowd and obliged, after finding it on her iPad.
In the piece, she talked about her sister, who is serving in Afghanistan and working to shut down bases while braving attacks and improvised explosive devices. Her sister and other soldiers like her give Anderson hope, she said.
“She’s encountered Taliban commanders and IEDs,” Anderson said. “She’s one of the bravest females I know. She’s my hero.”
Anderson attended American Legion Auxiliary’s Cornhusker Girls State program over the summer. She said the girls she met at the program make her feel optimistic about the nation’s future as well.
Anderson herself served as mayor of her floor at Girls State, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, former La Vista Mayor Andy Anderson, who served the Sarpy County city for 20 years.
“Girls State was an empowering experience that reminded me of the future of America,” she said.
In an interview after her speech, Anderson said public speaking comes naturally to her, but the topic they were given inspired her as well.
“My essay was completely personal and about important things in my life, so it was easier than previous topics,” she said.
Sherman, the third-place winner, said her speech was personal as well, as her grandfather served. Sherman was less excited about public speaking than Anderson, saying she was more of a theater and drama person.
Jodie Morgenson, a Platteview High teacher, was the sponsor for this year’s contest. Thirty of her students prepared speeches, and Morgenson selected 15 to send to the VFW for judging.
“It’s my opportunity to show patriotism, in a token way compared to how others serve,” she said. “It’s a nice connection to have in the community.”
Morgenson also won an award at the event. The VFW recognized her as its high school Teacher of the Year.
“(This award) was a complete surprise for me,” she said. “I was there to celebrate my students’ accomplishments and had no idea I’d even been nominated. I am just so proud to work in this district and feel so lucky to work here in the first place, and then to get a surprise like an award like this is like really fancy icing with sprinkles and a cherry on top. I am thankful for and humbled by this award.”
Platteview High principal Angela Simpson said there are many good teachers at Platteview, but Morgenson stood out.
“When I walk into her classroom, it’s usually amazing,” Simpson said. “She relates so well to high school kids and shows so much compassion and professionalism and knowledge. She makes her classroom a place of exploration. She brings in a wealth of experiences and is not scared about trying anything. It’s a class I’d want my child to be in.”
Arlis Scanlan, a seventh-grade science teacher at Platteview Central Junior High, was named Teacher of the Year for grades 6 to 8 for the post.
Scanlan was also the winner for District 10, so she will compete at the state level. State results will not be announced until this summer.
“Our principal announced that I was going to be Teacher of the Year at our Christmas party,” Scanlan said. “I didn’t know until tonight that I had won the district. It’s very exciting. There are so many great teachers at our school that it’s embarrassing to be picked. I was shocked (Johnson) nominated me.”
Platteview High Principal Darin Johnson said he nominated Scanlan because he feels she is an excellent teacher.
“It’s very obvious she cares a lot about kids,” he said. “She works well with her peers, develops outstanding lessons that are engaging and is a wonderful leader and planner. She is everything you would want your child’s teacher to be.”
Janna Giles of Westmont Elementary School was the Teacher of the Year in the kindergarten through fifth-grade category.
Westmont Principal Melissa Hasty said Melissa came to mind when thinking about teachers who have given a lot for their country.
“She’s married, but she’s really a single mom, because her husband has been gone with the military about half the time they’ve been together,” Hasty said. “She has three little kids, all under the age of seven, and got her degree in teaching while raising them.”
Giles said having her husband gone so often is a challenge.
“We take it day by day,” she said. “We really enjoy the time we have with him when he’s home.”
Giles said the award came as “a complete surprise.”
“I was pretty excited and very honored to see that my principal had taken notice of me and thought of me for that award,” she said.
Voice of Democracy winners received $100 for first place, $75 for second and $50 for third. Patriot’s Pen winners received $75 for first place, $50 for second and $25 for third. All Teacher of the Year winners received $50 and a gift card to Old Chicago.