CRANBURY: First steps for lifelong writers – Three students receive national recognition

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By Amy Batista, Special Writer
CRANBURY – Cranbury School students have joined the list of the national award recipients of the 2016 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in grades 7–12 last month.
Eighth-grader Uma Mani achieved a gold medal writing award at the national level and was invited to Carnegie Hall where she will be presented with her medal. Additionally, seventh-grader Subha Sivakumar and eighth-grader Isabel “Izzy” Sethi each received silver medals.
“This is the first year that a student from Cranbury School will receive a gold medal at the national level,” said English teacher Elizabeth Grimaldi in an email on March 21. “We have had a few students win gold key, silver and honorable mention at the statewide level.”
Ms. Grimaldi said that in December, several middle school students submitted their writing to the Scholastic Writing Awards, a national online writing competition with a time honored history that includes many famous alumni such as writers Sylvia Plath and Truman Capote.
“Key” level awards are given locally and represent the first level of achievement.
“There are three levels – Gold Key, Silver Key and honorable mention,” said Ms. Grimaldi. “The Gold Key winners are sent to the national level for more serious judging. Uma Mani won a gold medal at the national level and Subha Sivakumar won silver medal at the national level. Only gold medal winners are invited to Carnegie Hall.”
Ms. Grimaldi said that the students represent under 1 percent of all of the entire submissions from the country, about 322,000 this year.
Uma earned gold key for her poem “My First Time in India”; Subha won silver key for her poem “The Dancing Girl”; and Izzy for her journalism piece titled “Depression-Not According to My Culture.”
“Izzy submitted a total of 11 pieces of writing and received additional recognition for most of those as well,” said Ms. Grimaldi.
Other students to receive recognition included: eighth-grader Colleen Wiseman for her poem “Red Stranded Tree’,” which earned an honorable mention; eighth-grader Lili Wang for her poem “I Hear The People Sing,’ which the silver key; and eighth-grader Christy Phillips for her poem “This Was The Girl,” which also earned an honorable mention.
The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards recognize student achievement in the visual and literary arts in 29 categories, including editorial cartoon, poetry, graphic design, fashion, science fiction, video game design and more, according to its website.
Through the Scholarship Provider Network, $10 million in scholarships is set aside specifically for Scholastic Award–winning high school seniors to apply for at more than 60 colleges and universities who have partnered with the Alliance, according its website.
Nearly 70,000 teen artists and writers are recognized in their regions each year. More than 1 million original works have been submitted and more than $40 million has been made available in scholarships and awards to top winning students over the past five years alone, according to its website.
“Students submitted their work both from home, or during our morning writing club in mid-December,” said Ms. Grimaldi. “I personally put most of the applications in the mail, once the students had completed and printed their applications via the online form- so you would call it a combined effort.”
She said that the students who submitted their work were self-motivated to do so with some extra prodding from her.
“They selected their own pieces for submission,” she said. “Some conferenced with me prior to submitting their work and others did not.”
Ms. Grimaldi said that Uma was actually not going to submit anything this year.
“She basically forgot about it until the last day, when I sort of coaxed her to search her electronic files and choose her best work, and then I assisted her in the completion of the process on the final deadline date,” she said.
“I first heard that the national award results were out through my friend Isabel “Izzy” Sethi who won a silver award for her journalism,” said Uma in an email on March 31.
She said that she had received a few emails from Scholastic notifying her about the awards, but she hadn’t bothered to check since she doubted that she had won anything.
“It took some persuading from Izzy to get me to check, and when I did I was surprised and overjoyed to find that I had won a gold award for my poem,” said Uma. “After telling my friends, I logged into my Scholastic account and found a list of instructions for what I had to do to attend the ceremony which is being held in New York City. “
Uma participated in Scholastic last year, winning a silver award in regionals for her personal memoir, but she hadn’t specifically written anything for Scholastic and had decided not to participate.
“When I got to school the day all submissions were due, Mrs. Grimaldi asked me what I had submitted and hearing I hadn’t written anything, she urged me to submit any writing I might have,” she said. “I spent the next half an hour in the back of her classroom scrolling through my Google Drive to find any old writing assignments I might be able to submit.”
She said for her, the highlight of this experience was finding out that she had won and being able to go through the process with her close friend, Izzy.
Uma said that the process to submit pieces to Scholastic is relatively simple.
“To submit both writing and artwork, you first have to create an account through Scholastic where you will put in some basic contact information for yourself and for a teacher or other educator who helped you,” she said. “In your account, you can add a submission and choose what type it is.”
She said that there are many different categories for writing including personal memoirs, poetry, journalism, critical essays, and flash fiction, and for art, you can submit digital art, comic art, architecture, ceramics, and much more.
“The next step to submit a piece of writing is to copy paste in whatever you have written, following the given guidelines,” she said. “For art, the next step is to take a picture of or scan your artwork, and upload it to your account. Lastly, you have to answer a few brief questions about your piece and pay five dollars for each submission.”
Ms. Grimaldi said her commitment to this process is born of the belief that lifelong writers can be made when they begin to take their first steps to sharing their work with a broader audience, readying themselves for the journey toward publication, which is highly competitive and often deflating.
“If they receive some affirmation of their work, they are encouraged to continue,” she said.

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