Two Henderson Middle School seventh-graders earned the Ambassador Award for the Do the Write Thing challenge Saturday, beating hundreds of students for the right to represent El Paso in a national competition.
Martha Rios and Joe Gonzalez will represent EPISD and El Paso in Washington, D.C., this summer. EPISD had 8 students qualify for the local tournament, including students from Henderson, Armendariz and Magoffin middle schools.
“Henderson is a force to be reckoned with. It’s nice for the students to see they can do it,” language arts teacher Bianca Rodriguez said. “It doesn’t matter from what side of town you come from, or what school you go to, as long as your heart is in it, you can do it.”
The Do the Write Thing program was launched by the National Campaign to Stop Violence to encourage middle-school students to examine the impact of youth violence on their lives. Teachers are provided with a lesson plan for classroom discussion and a writing assignment for students to begin the conversation on what can be done to reduce youth violence.
EPISD English and Language Arts facilitator Lisa Lyons shared the happy moment with the students.
“When it was announced that never in the history of the El Paso DTWT Program have the Ambassador Awards been selected from the same school, I was overcome with a wave of gratitude for the students’ accomplishments and sheer joy as I witnessed the ear to ear smiles beaming on their faces,” Lyons said. “I hope that Martha and Joe learned that through the power of the pen and the words they weaved together, their thoughts will be read and heard far beyond the projection of their voices.”
Rios focused on the bullying aspect of youth violence for her essay, writing about her own personal experience with bullying.
“I wrote about bullying, my experience with it and what we can do to help, as well as some ideas on how to prevent tragedies,” Rios said.
She was overcome with emotion when they called her name at the recognition reception.
“My heart stopped, and I felt like crying,” Rios said. “I’m looking forward to the national competition. We are going to compete with students from all over the U.S. who are also finalists.”
Rodriguez was not surprised Rios received the award.
“Since day one, she’s been an amazing writer. I had a feeling she was going to be selected because she put in so much emotion and personality,” Rodriguez said. “This was a very special topic for her so she really connected with it. She 100 percent deserves this award. I’m so proud of her.”
Student Joe Gonzalez also wrote about the bullying and how it has impacted close friends.
“I have many friends that have been bullied,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s important to talk about these issues and share this message with others.”
Gonzalez feels nervous to present on such a personal subject, but he is looking forward to meeting other like-minded students.
Teacher Luis Lopez is proud of the seventh-grader, noting a discernible change in his confidence after participating in the writing contest.
“He has a quiet confidence about him. He doesn’t talk in class much, but he’s very perceptive,” Lopez said. “Now he’s walking tall, and I think he’s realizing the kinds of doors this opens.”
Lopez had confidence in his student’s piece and was beyond happy for Gonzalez when he received the Ambassador Award.
“I immediately knew it was a strong piece when I read it,” Lopez said. “It just had so much emotion that it jumped off the page.”
The students will present their essays during National Recognition Week to national leaders, such as the Secretary of Education and the Attorney General of the United States, among others. Their writings will also be published and placed in the Library of Congress.