Representatives from the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post passed out certificates and thanked Miller Middle School students for their words of support Tuesday at the Miller library, and sent one local girl to the state competition of the "Patriot's Pen" essay contest.Eighth-grader Natalie Kirkpatrick took the top district award for her essay titled, "Why Should Veterans be Honored?" The district is made up of Durango, Cortez, Mancos, Dolores and Pagosa Springs school districts and all home- and private-school students. Natalie won at district and awaits the judges of the state portion of the national contest.
"Basically, I learned that veterans do a lot for our country, but they're not honored that much," said Natalie, 14.
She is the daughter of local attorney David Kirkpatrick and Riverview Elementary librarian Trish Kirkpatrick. She spent about five days researching and writing the piece.
She was one of several students who impressed local judges. Three entries were sent to the district judges, who eventually selected Kirkpatrick's essay as the best. Post commander Bill Morris said all 110 entries were good - it was difficult to select just one winner.
"There was no way that we could narrow it down to just one," said Morris.
This was the first year Durango School District 9-R students took part in the national contest. English teacher Marlys White decided to include the essay as a part of her advanced language-arts curriculum this year. White, a Texas native in her first year at Miller, said she saw success in her Corpus Christi students when she first assigned the essay.
Born to a family with a strong military tradition and an aunt and nephews serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, White said she wanted her students to explore their family's military involvement as a way of strengthening family bonds and understanding personal histories. Many students didn't even know they had relatives who served in the military when they started the project.
"It seems like it opens a door, that it might not have been something that a relative would normally talk about," she said.
White contacted the VFW post this year, and it eagerly provided her with information about the contest. This year, the post received the most entries for the contest.
Twelve-year-old Angeling Cruz-Yen's was one of the other students to make it to districts. She wrote about the difficulties that await veterans when their service or deployments ends.
She said it's important for civilians to not only appreciate the sacrifices made by servicemen and women, but to consider their readjustments to daily life. She said Veterans Day and Memorial Day are forced holidays, with those who celebrate often doing so unaware of a soldier's sacrifices.
"Most people don't think about how hard it is to fight and see your comrades die," said Angeling, 12.
Before she left the library for lunch, a VFW representative walked up, shook Angeling's hand and thanked her for her essay.