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Constitution essay contest awards over $500 to Denair Middle School students
Constitution Essay Project 1
Denair Middle School eighth graders Jacob Lewellen (3rd place), Will Knox (1st place), Logan Pierce (2nd place) and Alyssa Bedarri (grand prize winner) stand with Denair Unified School District Board member Robert Hodges on Monday after he announced them as the winners of the inaugural Constitution Essay Project. - photo by ALYSSON AREDAS / The Journal

Four Denair Middle School eighth graders discovered just how much hard work can pay off when they were rewarded over $500 collectively for their essay submissions in the inaugural Constitution Essay Project.   

“I feel very proud of myself,” said eighth grader and grand prize winner Alyssa Bedarri, who said that she will most likely place her $250 award in her savings account. “This was a good competition to make kids realize if they work hard, they can be rewarded.”

In addition to Bedarri, Will Knox was awarded $150 for first place, Logan Pierce was awarded $100 for second place and Jacob Lewellen was awarded $50 for third place.

These four students from Jim Wagner’s history class were challenged with answering the essay prompt, “How does the United States Constitution protect separation of powers?” by drawing on current events as they relate for the first-ever Constitution Essay Project, which was brought to DMS by a small group of community members from Turlock, Modesto and Oakdale.

“All of these essays were very good. It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” said judge Anne Jeffries. “Grammar and spelling was what made the difference with Alyssa. Hers was very good and really organized. It flowed and had a lot thought put into it that really made sense.”

The idea behind the Constitution Essay Project came from Pat Wilhelm, who attended an awards ceremony for a similar competition with Jeffries two years ago. The two introduced the idea to Wagner, who announced the project to his students in October. Students had until the middle of November to submit their finished piece. 

“Pat thought it would be a good idea to do something like that locally because it is hard to encourage young people to write an essay, so she suggested it to me and we went from there,” said Jeffries.

“We decided to keep it small this year and learn as we went,” added Wilhelm.

The Denair Lion’s Club donated $400 to the project, according to Jeffries, while a myriad of individual donors covered the remaining $150 in awards and other material needs, including certificates and award stickers.

In addition to announcing the winner of this year’s Constitution Essay Project, organizers presented Principal Travis Manley with a plaque that will be transported from school to school in the future depending on where the grand prize winner resides, and a copy of the United States Constitution and a quill pen to Wagner.

Although this year’s project only included DMS, both Jeffries and Wilhelm said that they would like to incorporate Turlock Junior High School, Dutcher Middle School and Ross Middle School next year.