Rewarding a dream of success

Contest: A William Paca third-grader earns a $5,000 college scholarship for her vision of her future.

March 21, 2004|By Amanda Ponko | Amanda Ponko,SUN STAFF

"Our word of the month is ... dream," echo hundreds of children in sync with their enrichment teacher, Margene Versace. "The kind you have while you're awake."

More than 500 pupils and dozens of parents and faculty members packed the gymnasium of William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School in Abingdon on Thursday to honor third-grader Kiera McKenna and nine other prize winners. Kiera, 9, won the grand prize of the "Dare to Dream ... Expect to Succeed" national competition. Any medium could be used for the contest.

She was chosen from 3,000 submissions nationwide to receive a $5,000 college scholarship for her contest entry. She earned two computers - one for her school and the other for her teacher - equipped with 40 CD-ROMs all granted by BrainstormUSA, an Atlantamarketer of educational software and creator of the program.

When Versace asked pupils to create an innovative project illustrating what they want to be when they grow up, Kiera came up with the idea of being a sports scientist - a profession recently created to enhance an athlete's performance through medicine, physiology, biomechanics and nutrition.

"I'm a sports person, and I like science," she said. "I tried to combine them and found out that there's a job I could do." After she was presented with her 5-foot scholarship check, she cried.

"I'm not upset, I'm happy. I'm just happy," she said. As a part of the contest, parents are asked to describe how they will help make their child's dream come true.

Edgewood resident Colleen McKenna, Kiera's mother and a fifth-grade teacher at the school, wrote a letter that she sent with her daughter's entry about how she plans to help Kiera through her journey into adulthood.

Kiera stands out from other pupils because she is well-rounded, McKenna said.

"She plays the trumpet, she plays sports, she loves school," she said. "I really appreciate the kind of person she is. She's a great role-model."

Kiera's winning submission formed a beautiful picture of her personality, her mother said. The large poster she created includes a description of what a sports scientist is, the academic training necessary for the profession, a projected timeline for the next 20 years of her life, along with photos of her participating in sports. The project also showcased profiles of three famous women in science, including Mae C. Jemison the first African-American woman astronaut.

Sequoia Minor, 11; Megan Willis, 10; Janai Caldwell, 9; and Erin Sullivan, 6, all received computers and software for their homes. Alan Gallion, 10; Elaina Johnson, 9; Madison McCall, 7; Britney Little, 7; and Ghia Ulrey, 6, won a software package.

Delores Athey, educational program coordinator of BrainstormUSA for the Maryland, Virginia and Washington area, said there have been 22 prizes awarded to William Paca/Old Post Elementary in the past two years.

"This program gives kids an ability to express their dreams and to get recognition for that," she said. "All 10 of these kids are very deserving of these awards."

Dan Locke, the regional manager for BrainstormUSA, said the purpose of the company is to help children succeed.

"We get parents to make a commitment to the success of their child," he said. "Our goal is to bridge the gap between home and school."

Versace said she introduced the "Dare to Dream" program to the school when she saw an advertisement in a magazine and called the phone number, bringing representatives to Edgewood to talk to pupils about the scholarship program.

"We're not a rich or affluent community, but we are a community that supports our kids. ... It's all about opportunities. Opportunities and dreams," she said.

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