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Up-and-coming Albuquerque middle-schoolers got their own soapboxes to speak on issues they cared about for top education officials Tuesday.
In an inaugural civics bee for Albuquerque, 10 middle-schoolers put their knowledge of the rights and duties of American citizens on display for an audience that included parents, state lawmakers and New Mexico Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus.
“I’m proud of you,” Steinhaus told the students. “You are a finalist and you did an incredible job today.”
The 10 middle-schoolers were named finalists out of over 220 essays submitted on topics of their choosing. The competition was held by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.
Students competed against each other across three rounds of questions in the bee. In the first two rounds, they answered multiple-choice questions and were ranked on a leaderboard on a large screen for all to watch.
Desert Willow Family School seventh grader Anna Richardson broke ahead early in those rounds, finishing with a perfect score.
She was joined in the top three by Harrison Middle School seventh grader Elian Diaz Erives and 21st Century Public Academy eighth grader Oliver Rich-Jackson.
In the third round, the three students answered judges’ questions on their entry essays. Richardson wrote about refugee needs, Rich-Jackson about the “plummeting water level in Elephant Butte reservoir” and Diaz Erives about the “faults in the education system.”
Richardson was crowned champion and was awarded an oversized $1,000 check. Rich-Jackson came in second and received $500, and Diaz Erives was awarded $250 for third place. They each also received round-trip Southwest Airlines tickets for any impromptu celebratory trips.
“I didn’t really want to do it, but this is a topic that I’m really interested in, that really means a lot to me. So I was excited to come here and I’m very happy that I won. I wasn’t really expecting to,” Richardson said. “This is a good way to make it more public.”
The three finalists received a standing ovation for their performances. All 10 finalists received trophies.
The other seven finalists were: Adam Burianek and Elise Hays of Desert Willow; Jareth Torres and Lilly Woods of the Albuquerque School of Excellence; Leah Dye of Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School; Rhea Holliday of Mission Achievement and Success Charter School; and Briley Stanford of Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School.
Essays were graded by a panel of 19 judges made up of community and business leaders, including APS board member Crystal Tapia-Romero, and chamber of commerce president and CEO Terri Cole.
The bee was one of six across the country, event organizers said. It was sponsored by the Daniels Fund, which gave a grant of $3.5 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for this year’s bees, and to extend them across 50 states next year.
The end goal, said civics bee chairman Kyle Beasley, is to rival the national spelling bee. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a video message to the students that civics is instrumental to both local and national communities.
“Civic engagement is something that truly takes an individual and makes them an owner of the community they’re in,” he said. “That actually makes our communities better and, by extension, (makes) America a better place to live.”