McCandless-based enrichment group student wins essay contest honoring Columbus

| Thursday, May 1, 2014, 2:57 p.m.

A Cranberry Township teenager involved in a McCandless-based enrichment group for home-schooled students is the eastern states winner of an essay contest honoring Christopher Columbus.

Melina Stratigos, 17, an 11th-grader in the North Pittsburgh Homeschool Enrichment Program, won the Eastern Division award in the 2013-2014 Christopher Columbus Essay, sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the National Italian American Foundation.

The contest, open to students in grades nine through 12, judges entries based on historical accuracy, interest, originality, writing ability and adherence to the assigned topic.

This year's topic was “How Do Americans View Christopher Columbus and George Washington Today?”

Students were asked to examine the similarities and differences in the ways the Italian explorer and the first U.S. president dealt with challenges, along with what lessons today's Americans can apply to their own lives from the men's experiences.

Stratigos spent three weeks doing research and writing her essay.

“One thing I learned was that Washington and Columbus were both redheads,” she said. “One of their differences was how they appeared in public. Columbus was friendly; Washington was more reserved.”

Stratigos won the essay contest at the local chapter level. Her essay advanced to the state level, where she again won first place and earned the opportunity to compete against students from about a dozen other states for the Eastern Division title.

In early April, she learned her essay had won the Eastern Division award, which brought her a third medal and certificate from the contest.

“I also won bragging rights,” said Stratigos, daughter of Nicholas and Cindy Stratigos.

One of the division winners will be named the national champion in May and will be invited to read his or her essay at the national Columbus Day celebration in Washington, along with receiving a $1,200 cash prize, a medal and a certificate.

Stratigos entered the contest as an English assignment from the enrichment program — a cooperative of home-schooling families that provides classes in several subjects. It is based at North Park Baptist Church in McCandless.

Every year, Ruth Butler, an English writing teacher for the program, assigns her students a mini research paper.

“Students have to enter (the essay contest) as part of their grade,” said Butler, of McCandless. Several of her students have won the essay contest at the chapter level, and four have won at the state level.

“I've never had a student win the Eastern Division,” Butler said. “I've had my students enter this contest for 10 years and never imagined anyone would go this far. I was surprised, but Melina's essay was a flawless entry.”

Stratigos said she was “pretty shocked, because I didn't think my paper would get that far.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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