ABINGDON, Va. — Nine-year-old Eli Brooks had a special reason for wanting to compete in this year’s George Washington essay contest through his school.
The assignment to write about the country’s first president was a little more personal for the High Point Elementary student because Eli’s father, David Brooks, is serving in the Army National Guard as chaplain for the 429th Brigade Support Battalion.
During a phone interview last week, the father and son agreed that Brooks is fighting for the same country that George Washington helped start.
Eli’s research essay, entitled “George Washington: America’s Father,” has won first place in the research essay competition, an annual event for fourth grade students in Washington County. As top winner in the school district, the student won an all-expense paid trip to Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia, for himself and his family.
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The Washington essay award comes only a few weeks after Eli placed second in the Black Fort’s Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest, in which he shared his thoughts on what the American flag means to him.
“The school year has been full of stellar achievements for this young scholar,” said Jennifer O’Neill, principal at High Point Elementary.
Kylie Griffith, who teaches Virginia studies at High Point Elementary, said, “Eli provides valuable and meaningful input in our classroom discussions, I think that transitions to his writing.”
Second place in the Washington essay competition was awarded to Blake Wise of Abingdon Elementary, and third place went to Evan Pierce of Watauga Elementary.
All three students read their winning essays in front of an audience of parents, students and school administrators during a ceremony in the ballroom of the Martha Washington Inn last week. The students were recognized for their exemplary skills at researching and preparing the essays.
The school system resumed their tradition of holding the ceremony at the Abingdon inn after COVID-19 restrictions moved the ceremony to a shortened service at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center last year.
Dressed in Colonial attire, retired educators David Winship and Katie Mitchell played the roles of George and Martha Washington during the event. The Muster Grounds Musick Fife and Drum Corps played historic period music.
The top three district winners received monetary awards and George Washington Commemorative Coins.
In addition, the 21 student finalists who represent the top three winners in each of the county’s seven elementary schools received money and copies of the book “George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”
Eli wrote in his essay that “George Washington was a wise, courageous leader with good character. He was not perfect, but he never gave up, and he made America come to life. We all owe him so much for this country and its freedoms that we enjoy today.”
Eli’s father said his son has a gift for sharing his feelings through his writing.
“My son’s eyes are very open to the struggles we have to go through as a military family,” said Brooks. “We talk about the sacrifices military people have to make and the kind of support they need from us in order to do their jobs.”
During the phone interview, Eli said if he had the opportunity to meet George Washington today, he’d talk to the former president about leading the American army to victory during the Revolutionary War.
The student said he admires the president’s attitude of “not giving up.”
The competition, sponsored by the Washington County Educational Fund, Dr. John Lentz of Abingdon and Washington County Public Schools, requires participating students to write essays containing 300 to 500 words and to use at least three different sources for research.
Lentz designed the voluntary writing essay contest nearly 10 years ago to stimulate the interest of all fourth grade students in Washington County. The contest encourages students to learn about George Washington as an individual and a leader. The students are encouraged to use both school and public libraries for their projects.
Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at email@example.com.