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Two MHS Students Win Black History Month Writing Contest

Every winter, students from all over the Garden State compete to win scholarships in the annual Black History Month Young Writers’ Contest, sponsored by Allstate New Jersey Insurance Company. Along with a generous college savings plan for individual winners, Allstate also contributes a donation to the writer’s school – making this contest an especially desirable one for both students and teachers.

  Ellen Shakespear and Justin Meretab were both prize winners in the annual statewide writing competition sponsored by Allstate.

But precisely because it is desirable, the competition is invariably stiff. This year, for instance, approximately 100 students entered, all submitting essays or poetry on the 2008 theme, “Dear New Jersey Leader …”

Of the many entries, only one can be named the Grand Prize Winner. This year, that honor went to a Montclair High School sophomore, Justin Meretab. His winning essay, written in the form of a letter to New Jersey Governor Corzine, was the one among the more than 100 entries in 2008 that judges felt best expressed this year’s theme.

According to Allstate Stakeholder Division Manager Walter Tomashevsky, the submissions were judged according to the relevance of the theme chosen by each young writer, as well as the originality of his or her ideas, the format of the entry and, of course, the quality of writing.

Ninth, tenth and eleventh grade students in public and private schools were eligible to enter either a essay, a poem or an actual letter to a real New Jersey leader. Entries were required to be 200-800 words in length.

And the Grand Prize goes to …

Justin’s essay addressed the lack of connection between education and future success that he, as a bi-racial student, has perceived among his African-American peers. “To them, education feels completely separate from the ‘real world,’” Justin wrote.

He then went on to offer a solution: instilling motivation in youth who may not see the connection between education and opportunity. “Motivation is essential to performance not only in school but in life,” he wrote. “Motivation starts with inspiration.”

Flanking the winners are MHS English teacher Greg Woodruff and MHS Assistant Principal Shirlene Powell-Sanders at left, and Allstate representative Timothy Brown, MHS Assistant Principal Bill Gibney, and MHS English teacher Tom Clifford.


His call to action proposed the creation of a Governor’s School of Employment and Empowerment for economically disadvantaged minority youth. In such a setting, Justin envisioned, “African-American students would meet successful black leaders in various career fields … The combination of inspirational speakers, mentoring and practical job skills [would bridge][ the gap between education and the real world.”

As the Grand Prize Winner of the 2008 Allstate Black History Month Young Writers’ Contest, Justin earned the company’s 529 College Savings Plan worth $3,500.

In addition, Montclair High School will be the recipient of a $2,000 donation from Allstate.

In the Judges’ Honor Circle …

For Montclair High School, Justin Meretab’s Grand Prize winning essay was just part of the good news. Another student, junior Ellen Shakespear, was awarded $100 as one of eight finalists in the Judges’ Honor Circle for her entry, “Regarding the Postal Service.”

Ellen’s creative essay was structured in the form of a state legislative bill, crediting “Colonel Charles Young” as the Principal Author. (Colonel Young is a real historical figure: the first African American to achieve the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Army.)

Allstate New Jersey President William P. Ballinger expressed enthusiastic appreciation of both MHS student winners’ entries.

“Justin’s essay was well crafted, and brimming with ideas on how to improve the future for New Jersey’s youth,” said Ballinger. “And Ellen’s poem was just magnificent.”

For Ballinger and his staff, the yearly contest is not only a way to promote writing excellence among youth, it also helps forge bonds with the community and schools across the state. Focusing the contest’s message on national Black History Month is part of Allstate’s commitment to minority education efforts.

Stated Ballinger, “Allstate New Jersey is dedicated to evoking the creative and civic spirit of Garden State teens through this contest. Both [of the Montclair High School] students are a shining example of that spirit.”

MHS Celebrates Writing Achievement

The two prize-winning writers were honored by the Montclair school community and township in a celebration on April 11th. The celebratory luncheon, held in the school’s library, was attended by MHS and district staff as well as the friends and family members of the two honorees.

Representatives of the Allstate Stakeholder Relations Division were on hand to celebrate with the students and educators and to present the awards. The donation to the school is specifically designated for support of programs that promote tolerance, diversity and inclusion, according to Montclair High School’s English department chair, James Aquavia. Mr. Aquavia was the primary organizer of the awards ceremony.

Article Date: Apr 27, 2008