For the third consecutive year, all Rancho Mirage High School students penned essays entitled “This I Believe” for entry into a schoolwide contest. Produced and directed by English Department Chair Robin Hinchliffe-Lopez and English teachers Athena O’Grady and Natascha Behrens, the project expanded this year with awards assemblies featuring interpretive dance performances, reading of winning essays and prizes donated by The Desert Literary Society and Palm Springs Writers Guild.

“Many of the students comment that this writing is their favorite writing of the school year and that they look forward to it every year,” said O’Grady adding that this year each grade-level awards assembly was expanded to include a few dance performances (based on essays).

Several staff members also participated by writing their own essays and having their own mini-competition, which was won by Prevention Specialist Juan Flores-Toro. One staff member read his or her essay at each assembly.

Prior to the actual awards assemblies, students created posters with “belief statements” that were hung up around the school. Each grade level’s belief statements were hung at their respective assemblies in the shape of a heart.

Hanging beliefs

“The kids wanted to hang their beliefs on our walls, and the symbolic heart at the assembly was filled with each grade levels beliefs until the final assembly where it was complete because these statements are ‘breathings of our hearts’ as stated by William Wordsworth,” O’Grady said.

Judged by Desert Literary Society members, three essays were chosen at each grade level, and the three students with the highest number of points were selected as overall winners. Both the Writers Guild and Literary Society provided cash prizes, and the Literary Society awarded books by their authors to the winners as well. The overall winner was freshman Willow Manes for her “The Ones We Hold” essay.

“We often forget that even the ugliest person was once a beautiful child, and adults who now matter to no one were once the star of the room for one brief, shining moment at birth,” wrote Manes. “All people were once just a baby, crying out, and we held them.”

Winners and sponsors

The Writer’s Guild will be presenting the grade-level and overall winning students with their awards at the group’s May 5 meeting. The second and third place overall winners were freshman Hailey Mathews and sophomore Isaac Varela, respectively.

“I was extremely impressed with the students’ excitement for their fellow finalists and winners,” wrote Writers Guild member Marly Bergerud, who attended the assemblies on the group’s behalf. “The “This I Believe’ essay contest created quite a great deal of enthusiasm in your RMHS student body.”

“Our students are awarded for their strength, developing understanding and courage,” said Hinchliffe-Lopez. “We hope to empower the entirety of our community through this event.”