VFW honors teachers of the year, student essay entries

By LYNETTE SOWELL
Cove Leader-Press 
    
The Copperas Cove Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8577 honored teachers and students on Saturday, naming its winners of the Voice of Democracy and Patriot’s Pen contests, as well as the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher awards.
Post commander Herb Wright welcomed the audience to the awards ceremony, during which post members Tom Dechoteau and Chuck Downard distributed the awards. 
Dechoteau said this year, the choices were especially tough due to the number of entries, with the Patriot’s Pen essay contest alone receiving 117 entries from CCISD students.
Three teachers were honored on Saturday, one from among the elementary schools, one junior high teacher and one teacher from the high school. Nominations came from each campus. 
Each winning teacher, as well as the students, go on compete at the VFW District level.
Fifteen CCISD teachers were nominated by their respective schools. The judges selected one teacher in grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 whose nominations will then be forwarded to the district level. The nominees are selected based on their commitment to promote civic responsibility, teach flag etiquette and instill patriotism in their students.
Crossroads High School Principal J.T. Irick nominated Mandi Stai, who won at the secondary level. Stai teaches grades 9-12 U.S. History at the alternative high school.
“Ms. Stai takes an avid interest in the academic and social success of her students,” Irick wrote in his nomination. “Ms. Stai focuses on the whole student, making the extra effort to ensure her students’ total success. She assures her students are prepared to handle the challenges of the real world by helping them as they research and register for college, selective services, and to vote.” 
S.C. Lee Junior High’s winning nominee was Mary Ann Davis, a dyslexia therapist and interventionist for grades 6-8, nominated by counselor Melissa Dewald.
“I have witnessed Ms. Davis transform students who struggle to read to students who aren’t afraid to raise their hand in class to read a paragraph or go to the library excited to check out a book,” Dewald said. “Her ability to connect with each one of her students is truly a gift. Ms. Davis has touched the lives of many children, and I expect her to continue doing so each and every school year.”
For the elementary schools, Amy Gallen who teaches at House Creek Elementary, is a role model of charity, patriotism, and respect, Principal Larea Gamble said. Gallen is credited with hosting the House Creek Veteran’s Day Parade annually. 
“Her patriotism shows in her carriage, character, and conscious,” Gamble said. “She models citizenship and embeds social skills lessons on how to be a good citizen in her daily interactions with students and staff. She epitomizes community spirit, patriotism, and service to others.”
For the student-level awards, CCISD students in grades 6-8 entered the Patriot’s Pen essay contest which requires them to write a 300-400-word essay reflecting the theme “America’s Gift to My Generation.”  
First place went to Madison Sims, with second and third being awarded to Cheyenne Daley and Danielle Devins, respectively. 
In her essay, Daley wrote about security, technology and freedom as being America’s gifts to her generation. Devins said America’s gift was “everything,” and shared about how America’s military has paved the way for those freedoms throughout the years, including the “everything” of individual rights.
The Voice of Democracy awarded student entries on the high school level, which includes a 3-5 minute recorded speech. This year’s topic was “My Vision for America.”
First place went to Copperas Cove High School’s Dimas Bonet. Bonet shared his vision for the United States of America “to be truly united” and cleaning the divisions between each other with “respectful tone and civil disagreement.”
Second place was awarded to Connor Wilkinson, with third place going to Alechandra Terenas. 
Wilkinson’s speech focused on the executive order issued by Franklin Delano Roosevelt that allowed for the incarceration of Italian, Japanese and German Americans into internment camps during World War II. Wilkinson said this event should urge citizens to be aware of racial discrimination today.
Terenas talked about Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the message behind it, to continue to keep the legacy alive of what those individuals died for.
On Saturday, students had the opportunity to read their winning entries and after the ceremony, a lunch reception was held in Hummer Hall for the students, educators and their families. 

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