Shaler boy recognized in PBS Kids Writers Contest

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Connor Smith is not yet out of primary school, but already he is an author.

Connor, 8, of Shaler Township, won third place in the second-grade division of the national PBS Kids Writers Contest for his nine-page story “Seeds from Space.”

Connor, who will be a third-grader at Marzolf Primary School this fall, is one of two Pennsylvania students to be recognized in the national contest.

“We're really excited and proud of his accomplishment,” said Jaime Smith, Connor's mother.

Connor has participated in the regional contest held through WQED since he was in kindergarten. In his kindergarten year, Connor won an honorable mention for his story “Mr. Tree's Story.” This year, Connor won first place in the regional contest for “Seeds from Space,” which entered him in the national contest.

“It's a way for him to express his ideas and also complete a larger-scale project that is thought provoking, and lets him hone in on his writing skills,” Smith said of Connor participating in the contest. “It's something that he also enjoys doing, the whole process of illustrating and layout and writing, how the text is going to go (on the page) and how the picture will help out the text.

“He really has learned how to make a book in the past three years thorough this writing contest.”

“Seeds from Space” follows the story about a classroom of students who plant seeds that had been to space and back, which was inspired by a news article on the same subject that Connor's grandmother read to him.

“It just popped into my mind,” Connor said of the story. “(They didn't) grow like normal tomatoes they grew into living tomatoes. They tried to take over the whole school.”

In Connor's story, the entire school comes together to capture the tomatoes in the cafeteria workers' hair nets.

The WQED Writers Contest is one of the signature programs of iQ: smartmedia, WQED's educational initiative, and has been participating in the national PBS Kids Writers Contest for the past 20 years.

In the past five years, the regional contest has received more than 7,000 entries from students in kindergarten through third grade.

Jennifer Stancil, executive director of educational partnerships, said she and her staff are “ecstatic” about having two national winners chosen from WQED's regional contest. Nikolai Nawrocki, 5, of Wayne, Delaware County, won first place in the kindergarten division.

This is the third consecutive year WQED has celebrated having two local winners who placed nationally.

“We are absolutely so thrilled for all the kids,” Stancil said.

Stancil said WQED hosts the contest to help students reach learning goals in literacy and expression and also build self-confidence in writing and telling stories.

Regional winners had the opportunity to read their stories on iQ Kids Radio, a collaboration between WQED and The Saturday Light Brigade. The regional winners also have the characters from their stories translated into puppets and performed in a puppet show at the Three Rivers Arts Fest and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Summer Reading Extravaganza.

“We take these stories very seriously,” Stancil said. “They are essentially gifts to us in this office every March. … They are works of art to us.”

Connor will be recognized on Aug. 7 by the WQED executive board.

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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