Jay VFW Post recognizes winners of “Patriot’s Pen” essay competition and Teacher of the Year

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JAY – Local Jay Veterans of Foreign Wars, Frank L. Mitchell Post 3335 announces the 2024 local winners of the “Patriot’s Pen” Essay Competition and the selection of Teacher of the Year.

Local students in the Jay/Livermore/Livermore Falls area submitted essays expressing their views on an annual patriotic theme. The 2024 theme was “How am I inspired by America?”

Receiving first place was Landyn Anthony, second place Avery Cook, and third place Jailinn Fortin. More than twenty-eight local students from Spruce Mountain Middle School (SMMS) submitted their essays and were independently judged by local town leaders that included Carrie Judd from Livermore, Carrie Castonguay from Livermore Falls, and Shiloh Lafreniere from Jay. Judging is based on how well the applicants understand the knowledge of the theme; how they relate their own experiences to the theme; and their ability to give the reader a clear understanding of the theme. All SMMS winners were treated to an awards ceremony Sunday, Jan. 29 that included a sit-down dinner for them and their families, award certificates, and award checks from the Post, Post Auxiliaries, and District leadership teams.

From left to right, front row: Madelyn Rowley, Melody Hubble, Jailinn Fortin, Avery Cook, and Landyn Anthony. Middle row: Gail Kerns-Dube, Jay post Auxiliary President and Crystal McKay, District 9 Auxiliary President. Back row: Rick Merrill, Jay Post Commander; Rich Hatch, District 9 Commander; and Kim Cote, Post Auxiliary Co-chairman for Patriotism.

Post Commander Rick Merrill commented that this year’s essays were very well written and it was a pleasure to see the largest amount of entries by local students from our communities in many years. Patriot’s Pen Co-chairperson Kim Cote also noted that with the large amount of applicants this year, the Jay post was able to share with other local VFW posts in South Paris and Rumford those students’ essays that did not place first, second, or third with the Jay Post. Cote mentions that SMMS students “Madelyn Rowley took first place at the Rumford Post, and Melody Hubble took first place at the South Paris Post!”

Co-chairman Jim Manter adds that: “We want to also especially thank Teacher Denise Acritelli, from Spruce Mountain Middle school, who coordinated efforts again this year for our local students, to make our contest such a success.”

The Patriot’s Pen Award is open to sixth, seventh and eighth graders of any school or home-schooled, and no family history of military background is required. A written essay of 300 to 400 words is submitted to the local VFW Post. Last year, over 130,000 students submitted essays nationally.

Prizes begin at the local post level, with VFW Post 3335 of Jay awarding $75, $50, and $25 cash to the first, second and third place winners of each contest.

Also of note, Cote adds: “Landyn Anthony won the post and then won the next level judging, the District competition. Landyn was advanced to the State level competition. This earned Landyn an opportunity to attend the state banquet on January 21st, and meet the other 10 district essay winners from across the state.”

Prizes at the national level for the Patriot’s Pen Competition include $5,000 directly to the student to be spent preferably toward their future education, but can be used any way the student chooses. The second and third place national prizes include checks of $4,000 and $3,500, respectively. Prizes for the middle-school National competition go all the way through sixth place. Over $55,000 in total prizes were awarded in 2023.

Voice of Democracy winner for the JAY Post was Aisha Ibrahim from Lewiston High School. Ibrahim also was selected as the District winner and had the opportunity to attend the State awards banquet.

From left to right: Rick Merrill, Post Commander; Denise Acritelli, Teacher of the Year, Spruce Mt. Middle School; Kim Cote, Co-chairman for Patriot’s Pen; and Gail Kerns-Dube, Post Auxiliary President.

Also announced by the VFW Post was its selection of Teacher of the Year (ToY). Jim Manter, post judge advocate, mentions that this year was especially fruitful for the Post selection: “Denise Acritelli, from Spruce Mountain Middle School, was our 2023-24 ToY winner. But it gets better! Denise won also the District level, and then was selected as the overall VFW State (Department of Maine) winner, and is now in the running of National Teacher of the Year!”

“We at the Jay post are so proud of Denise for her accomplishment, and are pulling for her when they select in April from the top 53 teachers in the country,” Manter said. “This is not just a VFW event now, our entire community and SM School System will be getting national attention because of Denise.”

“We all need to congratulate her for getting recognized for her teaching methods and ability, and give her thanks for all the volunteer work she gives to our community!”

Should Acritelli win National selection, she will receive VFW grants for her school, and expense paid trip to the VFW National convention in July to Louisville, Kentucky.

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