Essay contest shows pledge still inspires

Members of Craig's Elks Lodge were pleasantly surprised with the results of a student essay contest they sponsored that asked middle school children to depict the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Each year the local lodge hosts a few student essay contests on a variety of topics.

"When I say the pledge I am stating the simple fact that I trust this country," wrote first-place winner Kaci Meek, a fifth-grader at Craig Intermediate School. "When you say the pledge you have the integrity to believe in yourself. Also you have the sportsmanship of belief."

Second-place winner, Gavin Lee Thompson of Craig Middle School expressed similar sentiment.

"... I take pride in pledging my allegiance to this great country because I see it as a thank you gift I can never repay, but want to," the seventh-grade student wrote. "A thank you for protecting our homeland from our enemies so that we could live this way."

First- through third-place winners were identified for all six intermediate and middle school students who entered the contest. Prizes range from $25 to $100 in Spree Dollars -- a Shop Craig First promotion of the Craig Chamber of Commerce -- and the chance to be chosen as an essay winner from the National Elks Lodge. The first place winner of the national contest will be awarded a $500 U.S. Savings Bond.

Elk Lodge members say the essay contests are a good way to keep track of how young people feel about political issues. Essay writing, especially when prizes are involved, is also good practice for students, said Ansara Hardway, chair of the lodge youth committee.

"I think this is important for them to realize how we got our freedom in the first place," she said. "Kids learn the pledge is a part of history."

The Pledge of Allegiance is recited at Craig Intermediate and Craig Middle School every day during first period, said principals of those schools.

Students can chose not to say the pledge along with the class for religious or other reasons, which a small portion of students have opted to do, said CMS principal Steve Wiersma.

"If students have objections, they can they can either just stand there or sit down when the pledge is being recited," he said.

Administrators at each Moffat County School are responsible for forming their pledge policies, Superintendent Pete Bergmann said in a previous interview.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers initially approved a plan that would require daily recitation of the pledge in Colorado public schools but teachers and students could opt out of that for any reason.

The proposal follows on the heels of a law passed last year that stated "all students shall recite the Pledge of Allegiance," but that law was put on hold by a federal judge before the start of school last year.

Prior to this week's proposal, students could legally opt out of reciting the pledge if they weren't citizens, if they objected on religious grounds or if parents wrote a note asking them to be excused.

At Craig Intermediate, most students enjoy learning and saying the pledge because it's a new experience, said Principal Martha Paxton.

Wiersma was encouraged by the recent effort by students entering the essay contest.

"It's great for students to think about the bigger picture," Wiersma said. "Unfortunately, if we keep saying (the pledge) just for the sake of it, it becomes routine."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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