Two students from Cole County R-1 Schools at Russellville were recognized by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 5 for their essays about caring for veterans.
Jillian Schmidt, a sophomore, and Emily Jurgle, a junior, submitted 450-500 word essays to the Americanism Essay Contest under the prompt "How can we support families who provide care to their veterans?"
Paula Harmon and Charlotte Dudenhoeffer presented each of them with an award for winning first place at the unit level and the district level in front of their class and families at Russellville High School. Both essays will head to the state competition in July.
Harmon said they judged 200 entries from third through 12th grade, and were "blown away" by all of them.
Schmidt's essay talked about different ways to care for veterans and bring the community together behind that cause.
"They're our history. Without (veterans), we don't know what happened. And they've gone through so much, and if you don't serve, you don't understand what they go through," she said.
The award came as a surprise.
"All Ms. Crider told me was, you better be here from 2:10 to 2:40," Schmidt said. In fact, she was so focused on finding her seat that she didn't notice her family seated in the back of the classroom until after the presentation.
"We really loved what you said about the caregivers, and you actually called them out by name, and it was fantastic, cause that's actually what we were looking for," Harmon told Schmidt when presenting her award.
Jurgle said her essay came from conversations with her mom, who is a traveling certified nursing assistant who takes care of veterans. She asked about who takes care of veterans who can't afford health care or can't qualify for Medicare.
"So I wanted to write about that, and talk about how important it is for us to do something because they sacrificed their lives for us, so why shouldn't we do it for them?" she said.
Her essay talked about ways to help as a community.
Harmon said she read Jurgle's essay aloud, and one of the women judging was brought to tears because of how it talked about a community rallying to help its veterans.
Dudenhoeffer, herself a veteran, was grateful for the students' support.
"From me personally, I want to thank each and every one of you, for everything you do, all the support that you give to your veterans and the veteran families. Thank you very, very much," Dudenhoeffer told the students.