"Preparing All Students to Succeed"

Stallings Elementary student wins national writing contest
Benjamin Wheeler is presented his plaque for winning the Hormel African American Resource Group (HAARG. Pictured, from left, are Antoine Destin, regional manager of Hormel Foods; Bill Breckenridge, principal of Stallings Elementary; Benjamin’s parents, John and Lisa Wheeler; and his teacher, Nicole Zarella. (Below) Finalists, all first grade Stallings Elementary students, are pictured with the national essay winner, Benjamin Wheeler. Pictured (from left, front row) are Lilly Mandeville from Bonnie Mulkeen's class; Riley Campbell and Ben Wheeler, both from Nicole Zarella's class; Jane Conway Harris from Jennifer Sain's class; Connor Babb from Wendy Wortha's class and Samantha Foppe from Christina MacTaggart's class. Also pictured (back row) are Stallings teacher, Nicole Zarella; Bill Breckenridge, principal of Stallings Elementary; and Antoine Destin, regional manager of Hormel Foods.

Dr. Martin Luther King left a legacy that will last generations. That legacy was the topic of a recent essay contest that landed one Stallings Elementary first grader some national attention.

Stallings Elementary first grader Benjamin Wheeler, a student in Nicole Zarella's class, won the nationwide contest given by Hormel Foods Corporation, a contest designed to promote Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy to future generations.

Stallings Elementary School was one of four elementary schools chosen from schools across America to participate in the contest sponsored by the Hormel African American Resource Group (HAARG).

“Our ultimate goals of this event are to promote Martin Luther King’s legacy; encourage young kids to aim high and give them exposure to minority professionals in corporate America; and to create a lasting partnership between Hormel Foods and Stallings Elementary for future mentoring and support opportunities,” wrote Antoine J. Destin, the HAARG Vice President for
Hormel Foods Corporation in a letter inviting the school to participate.

Students were to write a one-page essay titled, “What Dr. Martin Luther King Means to Me.” Stallings Elementary first graders took on the challenge.

Six essays rose to the top. The authors were Lilly Mandeville from Bonnie Mulkeen’s class; Riley Campbell from Nicole Zarella's class; Jane Conway Harris from Jennifer Sain's class; Connor Babb from Wendy Wortha's class; Samantha Foppe from Christina MacTaggart's class; and Benjamin Wheeler, a student in Nicole Zarella's class.

Benjamin’s essay, however, took the top prize. “Ben's message was simple, but very poignant in that as a first grader, he gets it,” said Janice Deane, an instructional assistant, at Stallings Elementary School. “He just wants everyone to get along no matter what their skin color.”

For winning the contest, Benjamin was awarded $50, an award plaque, and was featured in Hormel communications to employees and stockholders. For winning the essay, Benjamin’s class was also given a pizza party and donation of school supplies.

"I liked how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream about how all people should be friends even though they are different colors,” Benjamin said. “I think people are all colors and that they should be friends, too. I love to write and the people that I drew with my story were wearing all kinds of different colors."

Benjamin’s essay follows: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. means a lot to me. He had a dream that all people would be friends. He wanted all people to be nice to each other. I believe that all people should be nice to each other, too. I wish he was alive today. I promise to try to be like him and be nice to everybody. It doesn’t matter what color you are. We should all be friends.”

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted March 15, 2012 by Deb Coates Bledsoe