Garland County had 12 students to be named finalists in the "Arkansas Peace Week" Youth Essay Contest and Youth Art Contest on Monday.
Arkansas Peace Week is celebrated each year during the third week of September. This year's theme is "Make Peace our 'Natural' State!"
Amelia Grisham, a seventh grader from Hot Springs Junior Academy, was the county's lone essay finalist with her essay entitled "A Safe Place." Over 300 essays were submitted from across the state while over 2,000 art entries were submitted.
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Art finalists included Cutter Morning Star first grader Inara Santos with "Peace"; Cutter Morning Star second graders Kai Ling with "Peace in the Natural State," Luna Outlaw with "Love Your Friends," and Steven Chance Farley with "Outside is Peace"; Cutter Morning Star fourth grader Zylah Scholes with "Peace Changes Everything"; Fountain Lake fifth grader Alex Bogert with "Nature's Band"; Jessieville seventh grader Sierra Rudnicki with "A Peace of Equity"; Hot Springs Junior Academy eighth grader Kimberly Martinez with "Peace of Mind"; Jessieville ninth grader Adeline Robertson with "Aroma of Peace"; Jessieville 10th grader Amberly Humble with "Simple"; and Jessieville 12th grader Kamma Reed with "Peace for All."
The essay contest, held for grades 7-12, posed the following questions: "In 2022 the FBI reported that Arkansas has the nation's fourth highest rate of violent crime. How has violence impacted you and your communities? What can be done to reduce violence in Arkansas?"
The art contest was held for grades 1-12, and asked: "What does peace mean to you? Depict a more peaceful community in your art entry."
"I am so extremely proud of my students," Marla Carter, who teaches art at Jessieville High School and Middle School, said.
"Not just the finalists, but all that worked so hard to create original art that showed solutions to peace.
"Adeline Robertson, Sierra Rudnicki, Amberly Humble, and Kama Reed are phenomenal artists and students. They amaze me every day with their creativity and extra effort. I am so proud they are able to represent Jessieville's art program and school on a state level," she said.
The Hot Springs School District's Gifted and Talented Program recently hosted an "Actions for Peace" workshop for 68 seventh and eighth graders, which also included students from the Malvern and Fountain Lake school districts. Laura West, the school's gifted and talented and advance placement coordinator, said students played a game about cultural differences to learn how understanding those differences can reduce conflict.
"These girls are wonderful," she said of the district's two finalists. "They've been in my gifted and talented program for a couple of years now and they're just excellent students, they're excellent people, and I'm so proud of them."
They also designed coffee sleeves for Coffee Records in Malvern and Starbucks in Hot Springs, which included messages of peace, and ways to create a better world based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The coffee shops are using the sleeves this week to further spread the word about Peace Week.
"Anytime we can partner with the community, again, the students know they go to school here, but we are also part of our city, we're part of our state, we're part of our country. So we really want kids to know that we can help out other people and make their lives a little better," West said.
"I've been in this district a while, 13 years, but when I first started, I had an idea of what I wanted things to look like, and I think a lot of new teachers do. But then when you realize how amazing these kids are. ... And so I stopped setting that top parameter because they're just going to raise the roof. If I set it to 'right here,' that's what the kids are going to do. And so if you leave things open-ended, I mean, they're just going to go beyond your expectations of what you ever thought was possible, as you can see," she said.
Planned in coordination with the nationwide "Campaign Non-Violence Week of Actions," "Arkansas Peace Week" is a "program of activities with a mission to educate and promote peacemaking in our society and raise awareness of organizations working to build a lasting peace in Arkansas," a news release said.
"Our events feature education, service, dialogue and outreach activities. These events take place during the third week of September, in observance of the United Nations International Day of Peace."
Winners will be announced Saturday at the state Capitol Rotunda, where winners from each age group will be invited to read their essays. Art contest finalist's work will be on display through Sunday.