SPRING HILL — Four Spring Hill Christian Academy students will be honored Saturday at a luncheon sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10209 for their winning essays in the Patriot's Pen national writing competition.
Sixth-grader Ashley Lawrence, 11; sixth-grader Sierra Beard, 12, and seventh-grader Zachary Vilardi, 12, will learn how they placed in the middle school contest, and sophomore Peter Lopez, 15, will find out how well he placed in the high school competition.
Also invited is Jenny Lopez, 48, a Spring Hill Christian Academy English, science and art teacher who was named VFW Teacher of the Year.
The middle school contest invites students to write a 300- to 400-word essay on a patriotic theme. This year's theme: "When Is the Right Time to Honor Our Military Heroes?" The contest begins at the local level, and winners advance to the national level, where the first-place winner receives a $10,000 savings bond and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. Other top national winners receive savings bonds ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
Ashley said she embraced the contest because both of her parents served in the Navy.
As for being a finalist, Ashley said: "I feel like I'm proud. I did something. I accomplished something."
Sierra's family has an education background. Her father, Timothy Beard, is a vice president at Pasco-Hernando Community College. Her mother, Wendy Beard, is a reading specialist at PHCC. Sierra said she likes to write language papers.
Of her essay, she said: "I talked about the right time to honor our military and (how) they fight for our country."
Sierra was delighted to find out she had placed in the VFW contest.
"I thanked God afterward," she said.
Zachary suggested why his essay was chosen.
"I think it was because I thought about what I was going to write, and after I wrote it I went back and made changes," he said.
After he found out he had won, he said, "I was excited, because this was one of the first contests I entered."
Zachary is the son of Joshua and Jennifer Vilardi.
Peter, teacher Jenny Lopez's son, was one of the high school honorees, where the theme was "Does America Still Have Heroes?" He explained why he thought his essay made the cut.
"I think it was because I didn't talk so much about the people you first think of as heroes," he said. Instead, he said, he focused on the behind-the-scenes folks who help others and can change their lives. He referred to those who work in homeless shelters and soup kitchens and those who help build homes for Habitat for Humanity.
"He talked about them as heroes wearing hard hats and carrying hammers," Jenny Lopez said.
Lopez said she wasn't aware she was being considered as the VFW Teacher of the Year when she received the letter announcing she had won and inviting her to the same luncheon her winning students would be attending.
The purpose of the national program is to recognize elementary, middle and high school teachers who promote American history and traditions in their classrooms.
Lopez says she does not know who nominated her, but she is delighted to have been chosen.
"I didn't even know I was in it until they wrote me a letter and said I won," she said. "It really is a wonderful honor."