Cologne Academy students win awards in statewide charter writing contest

Aiden Beresford, Maddie Moeller and Jack Wickenhauser of Cologne Academy 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, 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.”
Maddie Moeller tied for third in the division for grades three through five.
Her essay described “the day I started band. I had waited all summer to begin and couldn’t wait to lay my hands on my brand new trumpet. … When the lesson ended I was disappointed because it was so much fun. I wished I could have stayed in class longer.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every youngster took at least one class that she/he wished would last longer?
Aiden Beresford, a first-grader, tied for third place in the K-2 division.  He modestly recalled a day when he received an award for being helpful. He said “guys quit it this is getting embarrassing so I try to avoid it but I could not stop it.”
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 had all F’s.” Then she and her English class read an essay by James Baldwin.
It reminded her that “Mom and Dad never finished high school and now are living the life of poverty….I want something bigger and better in life…the only way to do that is to get an 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

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