Joe Nathan Column: Minnesota students win awards in statewide charter writing contest

  • Print Friendly and PDF
  • Print Friendly and PDF

Joe Nathan Column — Jack Wickenhauser, De’shawnte Taylor, Vincent Smith Jr. and Denisse Sanchez are eloquent young people. They recently earned awards in a statewide Minnesota charter public school writing contest that attracted more than 2,200 entries.

Their essays answered the question, “What was your best day in school?”

Whether you’re an educator or parent, I think you’ll learn a lot by asking youngsters this question at the end of the year.

Jack Wickenhauser, a seventh-grader at Cologne Academy, wrote that his best day “was every day since the end of February.” He started staying after school by choice to “help watch the little kids. … I mostly look after one kid who has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) because I know what it’s like. I try to help him to do the best. … When I look in his eyes, I see a younger me.”

De’shawnte Taylor of Excell Academy in Brooklyn Park described the day an essay he wrote for the DARE program won a first place award. “My mom came to the school to watch our DARE graduation. I felt so happy when I first saw her. I gave her a huge hug.  It was very special because it showed me that she cared about me.”

De’shawnte’s essay was a forceful reminder that some of the most important things families can do for their youngsters don’t involve spending money on them – showing up can make a huge difference.

Second grader Vincent Smith Jr., St. Paul, was a charter school writing contest winner and is shown with Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. (Photo submitted)

Second grader Vincent Smith Jr., St. Paul, was a charter school writing contest winner and is shown with Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. (Photo submitted)

Another powerful essay by a St. Paul second-grader contained a surprise. Vincent Smith Jr. believes his best day in school was when “I got suspended for punching a classmate. I had not been behaving well in school. I have been rude. I have been talking and fighting instead of working.”

He continued, “Getting suspended got me thinking. My dad is in prison, but he often calls me. He is good, but he did something bad. I figured I was the same. I am good, but I do bad things. Being bad is not cool. The day I got suspended was my best day because it helped me change. Now I stay away from trouble. … It feels great to be a leader and not a follower.”

Wah Nay Moo, a sixth-grader at the College Prep Elementary in St. Paul earned top honors in her division. She described the first day she attended the school in September 2011. “Prior to this day, I had never attended school in America. I had my first experience learning with materials that were in good shape, unlike my school materials in Thailand that were over 30 years old.”

Finally, Denisse Sanchez, a Minneapolis 10th-grader earned first place among high school students. Formerly, “I hated school and that I had all F’s.” Then she and her English class read an essay by James Baldwin. It reminded her that “My mom and dad never finished high school and now are living the life of poverty. … I want something better and bigger in life. … The only way to do that is to get my education.”

TCF Foundation cosponsored the writing contest and provided cash awards for the best essays. To see humor, honesty, insight and courage, read the winning essays at

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, [email protected]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Purchase Photos

menards flyer promo