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Winning fourth-grade essay contest a family tradition

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One fourth-grade student wrote about how much she loved going to Greenwood’s Freedom Parade as a tribute to Indiana and the seasons.

Another made Indiana into an acronym, highlighting the state’s positive contributions and characteristics. A third mentioned Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health as a reason to love being a Hoosier.

For three years in Indiana’s statewide essay contest, the Poytner family, of Greenwood, have made winning a family tradition.

Emily and Jamie Poytner have both snagged the top spot in the contest. Jamie is the state’s most recent winner. And Jack Poytner placed third when he wrote his essay two years ago.

The family has made entering the annual essay contest a friendly family competition, Todd Poytner, their father said. Fourth-graders across the state are invited to write an essay with a prompt featuring Indiana culture or history.

“Because one person won, it is an extra incentive to want to win,” he said. “I don’t think kids view it as an assignment as much as they want to be a part of it.”

Fourth-graders in the student’s school, Greenwood Bible Baptist, are encouraged to enter an essay in the contest each year.

For the Poytner family, preparing for the statewide contest starts months in advance and usually includes everyone in the family, Denise Poytner, their mother said.

They scour library books about Indiana history and culture and pick a topic to write about.

Often a younger member of the family is asked about what he would write about if he were in fourth grade, Denise Poytner said.

All three of the Poynter’s children picked their own topic. Jack focused on Riley, as a cancer survivor. Emily wrote about all aspects of Indiana. Jamie focused on the Hoosier state’s changing seasons.

Winners of the annual essay contest get a scholarship, the chance to read their essay at the Indiana Statehouse and a collection of books by Indiana authors for their school.

Researching the essays give students a closer look at parts of Indiana beside Greenwood, and winners get a prize, Todd Poytner said.

“It teaches them how approachable our leaders are,” he said.

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