Sam Lucero, right, and Monica Muniz of the Panther Pride Band perform during Remembering 9/11 Day at East Grand Plains Elementary Friday. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Through drawings, collages and essays, the students of East Grand Plains Elementary School showed how they perceived growing up in a post-9/11 world, even though most were too young to remember or had yet to be born.
Students and teachers gathered in a school assembly Friday afternoon to congratulate the winners of a “What Makes America a Great Country” essay contest, in which students were asked to approach the topic in their own words.
One child from every grade from kindergarten through fourth grade received a certificate for an outstanding essay, or in the case of the kindergarten winner, an outstanding collage. The fifth-graders gave the essay reviewers a tough task — as so many of them wrote exceptional essays. And because it was difficult to choose just one fifth-grade winner, three were awarded certificates.
It was fifth-grader Brianna Ruiz, 10, who won the first place award for her grade level. She was also the only student asked to read an excerpt of her essay for the audience.
“America is not just a name of a piece of land,” Ruiz wrote. “America is a home to many people and a lot of different cultures, a place of loving people, also a people of great generosity, sacrifice and ingenuity.”
Other student essay winners were: kindergartener Zaedyn Logan, who made a collage with pictures of those in his family who have served in the military; first-grader and Brianna’s sister Marianna Ruiz; Emely Enriquez, who is in the first and second grade combination class; third-grader Colton Wagner; and fourth-grader Xavier Sosa. Natalie Ervin and Yadira Landaverde are fifth-graders who won second and third place for their grade, respectively.
The students had previously rehearsed and performed American country music artist Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” Cadets from the New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe Academy presented the colors, and members of the Mesa Middle School Band helped pep up the audience.
Principal Elisa Begueria said the assembly, which was meant to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, avoided focusing on the tragedy of that day’s events. It was instead an opportunity for students to learn about being American and what it entails.
“We want (students) to understand that our nation got together and stood up (on 9/11),” Begueria said. “That’s the only way to do things — when we’re all united. … It’s not an assembly to be sad for what happened … but to be happy for all the privileges we have.”
Begueria said she stayed up late the night before reading essays.
“It gave me chills to read how these kids are thinking,” she said excitedly. “I think it’s amazing for fifth-graders to be writing this stuff. … These are the kind of students we have at East Grand Plains.”
To the students, she said, “I know you’re proud of being an American. I’m proud of all of you.”