Twelve Arlington students in grades three through six were honored as winners of the annual Animal Essay Contest at the March 4 City Council meeting.
The contest was started 13 years ago by council member Sheri Capehart alongside animal advocate Allan Saxe, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington. The contest asks students to write about the responsibilities that go with pet ownership, urging them to understand the care needed to have a pet for life.
“When you take an animal into your home, it’s a lifetime commitment,” Capehart said. “We want these students to think about that, and students in that age group will be most impacted by that.”
Prompts included: “How would an overpopulation of homeless cats and dogs affect our local ecosystem?” and “What changes to cats and dogs have to make to live and survive as homeless pets?”
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Each essay had to be 500 words or fewer and go through two rounds of judging by Animal Services Board members, who chose the top 10 from each grade level. More than 1,000 entries were submitted, Capehart said, and were judged based on coherence, organization, idea development and voice.
“It was an incredible array,” she said. “We had great participation, and were so honored with the content this year.”
Butler Elementary in north Arlington boasted three first-place winners and one second-place winner — the most of all participating schools.
The winners and their families were honored at the council meeting with a reception and large poster prints of each essay for viewing. Each winner also received a certificate, a $100 savings account and a Kindle Fire tablet from sponsor Vantage Energy, and a tour of the Animal Services Center.
Winners used to be notified by phone, but Capehart said in recent years that she decided to surprise them in school with their family, friends and contest sponsors.
Capehart said the contest was a good indicator of how children are learning to grow in their writing abilities.
“After reading about 40 essays myself, and the volunteers reading 1,000, the things [the students] write and express in their essays is really remarkable,” she said. “Keep encouraging your children to write — we applaud you for that.”