Two 2nd graders from St. Angela School earned honorable mentions Thursday night as part of the 2011 Illinois Fatherhood Initiative Essay Contest.
During the dinner, held at the Union League Club of Chicago, the two schoolmates sat on stage with the subjects of their essays. Jabril Reneau took a seat next to his stepfather Latrell Pigram, while Zaria Wade sat next to her father figure and uncle Terrence Henderson.
Students from about 180 schools from around the state were asked to write on the theme of “What does my father mean to me?”
“I wrote that he’s caring and he likes to take me places,” Reneau said of the essay that earned him a spot as one of 12 finalists out of a total of about 18,000 submissions.
Zaria’s mother Tiffany Henderson said her daughter’s essay was touching.
“Her father passed away a few years ago,” Henderson said during a phone interview. “Of course, my brother stepped up, and she wrote about all of those things that he does with her.”
Henderson said the two have a much closer relationship than the average niece and uncle. The two have “uncle-daughter day,” and Henderson said her brother has picked up a lot of fatherly duties.
Pigram said he was “surprised and shocked” when he learned his 8-year-old stepson’s essay made it to the final round.
“When I first read what he wrote about me, I was overjoyed,” Pigram said. “I almost shed a tear.”
The Illinois Fatherhood Initiative has been teaming up with the Chicago White Sox to sponsor the essay contest since 1997. St. Angela Principal Mary Kay O’Rourke said she was honored to have her students represented.
“We’ve been doing this essay contest for probably 10 years,” said O’Rourke. “We’ve always had finalists, but this is the first year we’ve made it to the top 12.”
St. Angela students have a history of placing high in writing contests.
Last year, Alexia Leggin, then a fifth-grade student also from St. Angela, was a finalist in a national essay contest focused on paralyzed veterans.
Also in 2010, two more St. Angela students placed in the top 10 out of more than 1,000 essayists competing in a National Campaign to Stop Violence contest. (AustinTalks published those essays. You can read them here.)
And in 2009, Alex Franklin and Deja Coleman, both St. Anglea students, won awards for their essays that were submitted in the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence’s Student Voices Contest.
While St. Angela students didn’t take home first place this year, the school’s Director of Development, Gearlyn O’Rourke Lawler, said the students shouldn’t focus only on winning.
“The whole point of these essay contests is to help, not only with their writing skills, but with their general self-confidence in their academic work,” Lawler said.