An English-Learner from Cuba Wins a Writing Contest

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 22, 2007 2 min read
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I keep an eye out for whether English-language learners know about and participate in extracurricular school activities, so I took note this week that one of the top winners in a national writing contest about the importance of diversity in schools is an English-language learner. Laura Machado, 11, a 5th grader at Maupin Elementary School in Louisville, Ky., was selected as the top winner in the category of children under age 12 for her short piece, “Nations Are Gardens.”

Laura told me in a telephone interview yesterday that she moved to the United States from Cuba three years ago without knowing any English, and now has an English-as-a-second-language class for an hour each school day. At first, she said, “pronouncing the words” was hard. But her father, Eduardo Machado, said in Spanish that Laura learned English quickly and now sometimes interprets for the family at doctors’ appointments or in other settings.

The national writing contest was sponsored by the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights, which is located in New York and describes itself as “a non-partisan movement working to ensure that our courts protect and preserve equal justice, fairness, and opportunity.” The organization used the contest as a means to promote its support of the racial-diversity plans of the Seattle, Wash., and Jefferson County, Ky., school districts that were challenged in federal courts and are the subject of two U.S. Supreme Court cases expected to be ruled on this year. “We launched the essay contest because we thought it was extremely important to hear what the kids thought about diversity—and for young people to know the cases were before the courts,” said Marianne Engelman-Lado, the general counsel for the organization. (Read a Dec. 4, 2006, Education Week article about the court cases here.)

Laura received a $250 prize and an all-expenses-paid trip for her and her father to visit New York City. Yesterday they spoke to me from there, where they had participated in a press conference for the organization that included experts on the U.S. Supreme Court cases.

Teachers: What do you think about the fact that the organization tied the essay contest and the announcement of the essay winners to promotion of its views on the cases pending in the U.S. Supreme Court? The organization publicized the contest to English teachers. Would you have encouraged your students to participate?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.