SAIPAN International School students on Friday received the Voice of Democracy and Patriots Pen awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3457.

Since its establishment in 1947, the Voice of Democracy essay contest has been giving middle and high school students an opportunity to express their own thoughts about a democratic and patriotic-themed recorded essay.

This year's theme is "America: Where do we go from here?"

The national first place winner in the competition will receive a $30,000 scholarship paid directly to the recipient’s American university, college or vocational/technical school while VFW post winners get a minimum scholarship of $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C.

This year's Voice of Democracy winners on Saipan are SIS students Jesus Sablan, Serin Chung, and Stephanie Kim. The Patriots Pen Award winners are their schoolmates Brandon DeRocher, Jason Yu, and Moshe Sikkel.

Sablan, a junior high school student who also won last year, said receiving the award was "such a great honor."

He added, "I'm so humbled for the opportunity to learn and grow in this competition which gave me so much confidence in my writing and so much confidence in my future work."

He said he will compete again next year because "this is an amazing opportunity and I'm hopeful for the other opportunities to come."

Stephanie Kim said she was very thankful that she won the award. She congratulates the other winners and hopes the CNMI can fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Serin Chung said she, too, was very thankful. She also congratulates the other winning students.

SIS teacher Kimberlee Church was named Teacher of the Year at the high school level while Public School System 2022 Teacher of the Year and Hopwood Middle School teacher Dr. Riya Nathrani received the National Citizenship Education Teacher Award.

Church said she was so proud of the students. "This year was special in that so many of our kids were recognized and it’s such a diverse group of them."

She was surprised to have received an award as well. "I did not realize this is coming. I am honored. I find that this is a fantastic recognition of the importance of civil behavior, the veterans and our nation."

For her part, Nathrani said she is very grateful and glad that VFW is also honoring the work of teachers.

She said she knows that teaching citizenship in the classroom encourages students to be good people. Digital citizenship is also very important, she added. Students must be respectful online and know how to approach people in a respectful manner, she said.

"We do need more kind human beings in the world," Nathrani said. “I look forward to doing more work to help our students achieve their own dreams in their own ways."

VFW Post 3457 provides cash awards to the winners, including the national contest entrance fee, said Post Commander Capt. Joey McDoulett.

"We give them a little cash incentive to participate knowing that the competition is so tough," he added. “Each of the first place winners receive $300 while the winning teachers each get $100."

McDoulett congratulates this year’s winners for doing a great job.

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A bachelor of arts in journalism graduate, he started his career as a police beat reporter. Loves to cook. Eats death threats for breakfast.

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