Young Writers Express Their Thoughts on Water While Competing for Prizes

A Georgia water planning agency’s middle school essay contest challenges students to write about the importance of water and think about water-related careers

Young Writers Express Their Thoughts on Water While Competing for Prizes

Winners of the 2019 Middle School Essay Contest pose at the awards ceremony with (from left) Danny Johnson, manager of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District; Katherine Zitsch, director of the district; and Lynn Smith, chair of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

Interested in Education/Training?

Get Education/Training articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Education/Training + Get Alerts

Last year the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District held its 21st annual middle school essay contest. The theme was the unique nature of the region’s water resources and the critical role water infrastructure and water professionals play in society.

Established in 2001, the district is staffed by the Atlanta Regional Commission. It includes 15 counties and 95 cities in the Atlanta area, representing 5.5 million residents.

Rules of engagement

The contest opens at the end of August, just when the children are returning to school. Submissions are due in October. It is open to middle school students in private, public and charter schools and to home-schoolers in the 15 county metro region.

The 300- to 500-word essays are on a choice of two topics, one dealing with research and the other an opinion. The topics for the 2022 contest focused on how students’ communities adapted to the cycles of drought and flooding in metro Atlanta, and what the students believed they could do to help conserve water.

“We offer the students two topics because that way they can choose the one they are most interested and comfortable writing about,” says Sarah Skinner, education and public awareness coordinator for the district. “It also gives us more quality of essays over quantity. Before, essays were on many topics, including world water issues not specific to our region.”

Spreading the word

The competition is promoted through the district’s social media platforms. The district has a list of 3,000 educators who receive an email each year about the contest and the two topics. Many teachers are repeat customers, promoting it year after year. 

“We also have 51 water utilities in our region, and they help us promote the contest by notifying their residents,” Skinner says. “The utilities have relationships with the middle schools in their areas. They go into the classrooms and give presentations, and also offer tours of their facilities.”

School superintendents, curriculum coordinators and school principals are also notified of the contest and help to spread the word. In addition, Georgia Project WET, a water education program for K-12 educators, notifies its members. The counties and cities in the district’s service area also help with promotion.

Helping hands

The district gets about 500 entries per year. Justine Schwartz, education and public engagement specialist, culls that number down by first removing the essays that don’t match the criteria. She then picks the top three to five from each county and city.

After that she sets up a group call with utility representatives, who help judge the finalists, pick the winners for their county or city, and then select the grand prize winner. Staff members from Georgia Project WET and H2Opportunity, an organization of water professionals that encourages students of all ages to consider careers in water, also review the submissions.

The winners’ submissions are placed on the district’s website, and a celebration is held at the state capitol around the middle of December. All winners, their teachers, parents, and grandparents are invited, as are the governor and state, county and local officials.

“Quite often, the chair of the House or Senate National Resources Committee speaks at the event,” Schwartz says. The essays are blown up, mounted on poster boards and displayed around the room. A photographer is present, and breakfast is served.

The grand prize winner and runner-up get to read their essays to all in attendance. All winners receive a plaque and $100; the grand prize winner gets $500. Schwartz emails each teacher and parent to announce their students’ winning entries.

One father called her back because he thought the email was fake. His son had been acting up, and the parent had just spent all day with his son’s teacher hearing about it. He grounded his son, and so when he got Schwartz’s email that day, he wanted to make sure it was genuine. The day ended on a high note after all.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.