Rancho Pico students take home prizes in essay competition

(From left) Rancho Pico Junior High School eighth grade students Skylar Higgins, Mia Lutes, Matthew Blanco, and Matthew Krogh. Courtesy of Christopher Forbes
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Out of 2,200 submitted essays from students across the United States and Canada, four eighth grade students from Rancho Pico Junior High School received recognitions for their participation in this year’s Stossel in the Classroom Essay Contest.

Student Matthew Krogh was named a semifinalist in the competition and students Skylar Higgins, Mia Lutes, Matthew Blanco all received honorable mentions.

The seventh annual contest is a project out of the Center for Independent Thought asked students to respond to an essay prompt about how technology changes people’s lives and what the government’s role in technology should be, after viewing a special journalist John Stossel produced on the topic.

Christopher Forbes, the students’ eighth grade English teacher, said he was most impressed by the maturity his students demonstrated in addressing ideas counter to their own opinions.

“By the time we drafted the essays, most students had learned to diplomatically present their own ideas’ strengths over opposing arguments without resorting to personal attacks, instead focusing on supporting evidence to bolster their arguments,” Forbes said.

This was the second year students from Forbes’ class participated in the essay contest.  According to Forbes, 150 students completed the essay prompt used in the contest and about one-third entered their essays in the contest.

“Students had access to the assignment and contest a month before it was due, but the actual response to the prompt was spread over about 10 days,” Forbes said.

To prepare for the contest, students debated different topics in class, wrote thesis statements on controversial issues, watched videos depicting issues and chose a side with an explanation, switched sides of an argument to see both opinions and practiced other aspects of argumentative writing.

“They directly prepared for the contest by viewing and discussing a series of videos available through Stossel in the Classroom,” Forbes said.

From this process, Forbes said he hopes his students remember the process they used to break down arguments, look at different sides of an issue and explore their own beliefs for the rest of their lives.

He also hopes his students understood that arguments are tools for learning and that “winning” an argument is not the only way to “come out ahead.”

“Unquestionably, many of them have internalized the lessons learned in this process, and I hope that they all recognize a greater awareness as a result of this,” Forbes said.  “Having four ‘winners’ in this contest is nice, but watching a group of students become more critical thinkers is the real prize.”

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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