Third Annual Teen Essay Contest Winners Announced

Last night, May 16th 2016, the winners of the third annual TEAM Westport essay contest were announced at a reception inside the Westport Public Library’s McManus room.

The competition, which is open to all ninth through twelfth graders who live in Westport or go to Westport schools, focuses on a specific question each year. This year’s question asks Westport teens to make sense of the recent, “highly charged and tragic incidents–from Ferguson to Charleston to Chicago” that have prompted public discussions about the state of race relations across the country.

The contest was sponsored by TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism), Westport and The Westport Library. TEAM Westport is an official committee appointed by the First Selectman to “achieve, celebrate and extend a more welcoming, multicultural community” focussing on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. According to Harold Bailey, the chair of TEAM Westport, the essay contest is organized to challenge Westport students to “think about the world outside” of predominately white Westport.

Bailey explains further, “We have well over a 90% white population and you hear that Staples is the best school, that Westport is the best town and that it has the best people. Then there is that whole issue of reinforcing the idea, consciously or not, that anyone who is not that (white) is not part of what the best is.”

The First Selectman Jim Marpe praised the winners after reading each of their essays. “I think it was great how all the essays talked about how they as individuals need to be taking action and how all of us as individuals should be thinking about the problem of racial diversity and issues of diversity everywhere.”

Winning first place was Jacob Klegar, a senior at Choate-Rosemary Hall, in Wallingford. This is his second year participating in the TEAM essay contest and his second time winning it. He wrote his essay focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement that is trying to combat racism in America. He writes, “The events that have occurred reflect poorly on our country, and they require major changes to correct them. The people are prepared – now is the time to combat  racism head-on.”

Second place was awarded to Staples student Ellie Shapiro ’17 for her essay “Coming to Terms With Race in America.”  Shapiro, who says she was motivated by learning about college protests on Oberlin’s campus this year, says that “students not only need to be educated on racial tensions but they need to know how to handle them properly.”

Third place went to Ali Tritschler, a senior at Greens Farms Academy, who will be studying at the University of Georgia next Fall. Currently serving on the executive board of the diversity club at her school, she submitted a research paper centered around protests on college campuses, describing the issue of race relations in America as “a topic I have been working on all year and I am really passionate about.”  

The winners were determined by three judges who read all submitted essays “blindly” and didn’t know the names of the winners until tonight’s event. The chief judge is Dr. Judy Hamer, a member of TEAM Westport and accomplished educator. Joining Dr. Hamer in the  judging was Jaina Shaw, the teen librarian at the Westport Library, and Mary-Lou Weisman, both a writer and writing teacher.

TEAM Westport organizers were thrilled with the level and quality of participation in this year’s essay contest, and look forward to hearing from Westport teens on these important issues in the future.