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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 2, 2010

Sweeping PTA regional contest
Berne-Knox-Westerlo essayists praise school and win three awards

By Jo E. Prout

HILLTOWNS — Berne-Knox-Westerlo students Liam Hanley, Travis Fairlee, and Katie Forti swept the regional Parent Teacher Association essay contests for the Outstanding Youth Awards this year, winning certificates, recognition, and cash.

“It’s hard for BKW to compete with other districts because we’re so small,” said PTA president Tami Hanley, mother of Liam. In this case, though, enthusiasm was more important than size. “Most of the entrants this year were from BKW,” Hanley said.

The essay contests are open to students finishing fifth, eighth, and 11th grades. The essays are due in the spring, and awarded in October. The Northeast Region Parent Teacher Association, which has 134 member PTAs, sponsored the contests, Hanley said.

Liam Hanley, now a sixth-grader, wrote about why he likes going to school, answering the fifth-grade theme question. Hanley won a $50 check for his essay.

Independent of the PTA contest, his mother said, “He was also chosen for the People to People Student Ambassador program. You have to be nominated by someone. We don’t know who nominated him — a teacher at school.”

Tami Hanley said that Liam will spend 14 days in England and France this summer, learning and doing projects with others in the program. Liam was chosen for the ambassador program that went to Australia last year, but his family wanted him to be older before traveling so far from home, Mrs. Hanley said. The cost for the European trip this year will be about $5,000, she said. 

Fairlee and Forti, the other two BKW essay winners, are also good students. The essay question asked of both eighth- and 11th-graders was why education is important to them. Fairlee, now a freshman, and Forti, a senior, wrote on this theme. Each of the three students submitted a letter of reference and a list of their school and community activities. They were selected out of more than 35 applicants. The majority of entrants — 32 students — were from BKW.

Last year, only two students in the region entered the contests, and one was from BKW. This year, Hanley said, PTA Treasurer Donna Kelly sent out information on the regional contest to each student in the district who was finishing fifth, eighth, or 11th grades. Her diligence netted the large number of applicants from BKW, Hanley said. Fairlee was one of them.

“I entered the contest because it was an opportunity to see if I could win,” Fairlee said. He wrote a 90-word paragraph for the contest and won a $75 check.

“When I was younger and thought of education,” Fairlee wrote in his essay, “I always thought it meant how smart someone is. But, since I’m older, it is a lot more than that by having a positive attitude, great work ethic, and always participating in things you may like or dislike.”

Asked if he may try again, Fairlee said, “Oh, yeah, I’ll definitely enter, again.”

Forti said that she entered the contest because Tami Hanley, who attends her church, encouraged her to send in an essay. She wrote two paragraphs about the need for higher education, and won the $100 prize.

Two years ago, Forti, a long-time Girl Scout, wrote an essay that earned her a trip to witness Barack Obama’s inauguration. She wrote then of how she wanted to be a part of history and to see her government in action. Forti was one of 18 young women from the Girl Scouts of Northeast New York Council, which stretches from the Capital District north to Malone, who traveled together to Washington, D.C. to see the inauguration.

Hanley and Fairlee received their Outstanding Youth awards at a PTA and principals’ dinner on Oct. 4. Each read their essays at the dinner, and received certificates. Forti had a soccer game that night and could not attend, but her essay was read to the dinner audience.

“Education is essential for the fullness of life, the advancement of one’s career, and the betterment of the community,” Forti wrote. “My high school education is important to me because it challenges me to work very hard for the grades I need to get into a good college.

“Education is also important to me because it will prepare me for the real world. I want to be able to do all that I can to make the world a better place and help people. My community has given me so many opportunities, and I want to find ways to repay everyone who has helped me. I need to give back to my community, and improve it if I can.

“I want to do something with my life that I can be proud of. I’m not sure how I’m going to do that yet, but I am sure that education will bring out the best in me and help me achieve all of my goals,” she wrote.

Forti, a member of her school’s Key Club, the National Honor Society, and the Students Serving Society, plans to study biology or engineering next year. She is currently enrolled in several college-level Advanced Placement classes.

“As of the end of last year, I’m valedictorian,” Forti said. She believed that she was the only 11th-grade student to enter last year.

Fairlee, who plays soccer and runs varsity track as a freshman, holds a 95 average.

“I think of myself as an academic person,” Fairlee said. His mother, Jocelyn, said that Fairlee studies hard.

“The athletics help him be organized and stay focused on his grades,” she said.

“Education is really great for you,” Fairlee said. “You can do anything if you try, and you’ll be able to do anything. The more education you have, the more opportunities you’ll have in life.”

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