Veazie student wins ninth annual Maine Municipal Association essay contest

VEAZIE, Maine — Four middle school students from around the state — including seventh-grader Rachel Wheelden from Veazie Community School — have been named winners of this year’s Maine Municipal Association essay contest.

The annual contest’s theme, “If I led my community,” asked students to write about the ways they would improve their hometowns if they were elected to leadership positions. 

The contest is part of the Maine Municipal Association’s Citizen Education program, which works to teach people of all ages about local government and encourages them to get involved in their communities, Eric Conrad, the association’s director of communication and educational services, said. 

The contest is open only to seventh-grade students because that’s when a lot of schools begin diving into civics curriculum, Conrad said. While the contest aims to encourage students to think about how they would improve their municipalities, it also tries to educate them about the powers of local government and what elected officials can and cannot do. 

Essays were judged on the writer’s knowledge of municipal government, writing quality and clarity and originality. More than 200 students submitted essays — the highest number of entries received since the program started nine years ago. 

Wheelden is the third Veazie student in five years to win the award, according to principal Matthew Cyr. Her winning essay focused on improvements she would make to Veazie, such as adding a local library, a community park and creating more housing. 

“I think it would be important to add more houses to Veazie so that more people can come live in our town. There are a lot of empty places in Veazie that would be perfect for building houses. Since Veazie is a wonderful place to live in, I think it would be helpful to build even more houses in our town,” Wheelden wrote.  

She also wrote about making improvements to the riverside park, a long-awaited project citizens have called for since the town took ownership of the roughly 25-acre piece of land in 2017, four years after the dam was removed. 

[Former hydro dam finally transferred to Veazie for use as riverside park]

“The riverside park is a nice place to go visit, but there could be more there,” Wheelden wrote as a final suggestion in her essay. 

“In the summer, there could be activities such as arts and crafts for adults and children. For example, there could be rock painting, and creating art out of nature. The park is a beautiful place and it would be great to see it visited more often.” 

Along with Wheelden, three other Maine students were also named winners of the essay contest — Grace Dennison, from the Elm Street School in East Machias; Alanna LaPointe, from Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden, and Ava Anderson, from Windsor Elementary School. 

Each student will receive a certificate and a $250 prize to be used for educational purposes. The awards are normally bestowed to students by their respective municipal officials, although it’s not yet clear how that will happen amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

All four winning essays will also be printed in the next edition of the Maine Magazine, according to Conrad.

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