“Being an American” Essay Contest Opens to High School Students Nationwide

Arlington, VA – High school students nationwide are invited to participate in the 2008-2009 “Being an American” Essay Contest, which explores the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship.

Administered by the Bill of Rights Institute, a non-profit educational organization in the Washington, DC area, the contest offers cash prizes totaling more than $189,000 to both students and their teachers. Top prize winners and their teachers also receive all-expenses paid trips to the nation’s capital.

“The ‘Being an American’ Essay Contest challenges high school students to evaluate American citizenship in light of our Founders and our Founding documents, and by doing so, promises to ensure a continuing national conversation about what unites America and its people,” said Bill of Rights Institute President Victoria Hughes. “We urge classroom teachers and school systems across the country to take advantage of this valuable opportunity and explore the values, heroes and legacies that make our country and citizens unique.”

The coming 2008-09 school year will be the first year in which high school-aged students from every state will be eligible to enter the contest. The contest began in 2006-07 in three states and expanded last year to 19 states and the District of Columbia. Over 17,000 students have participated in the contest to date.

To participate, students are asked to share their thoughts on American citizenship by answering the following question: “What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?”

The names of the top three prize winners in each of nine regions will be announced at a special Washington, DC Awards Gala in the spring of 2009. The first place winners in each region, and their sponsoring teachers, will receive $5,000 cash awards; second place winners $2,500 and third place winners $1,250. The winning students will explore the nation’s capitol, meet contemporary American heroes and national leaders, and visit the Supreme Court, National Archives and other national landmarks. Honorable mention prizes of $250 will be awarded to 63 students, seven from each region.

As in previous years, teachers are encouraged to incorporate the essay contest topic into the classroom. Lesson plans meeting state and national academic standards and supplemental materials are available at no charge from the Bill of Rights Institute.

The “Being an American” Essay Contest has a dedicated web site, www.BeingAnAmerican.org, where teachers, parents and others can find complete rules and lesson plans, and is the only place where teachers can submit their students’ essays for consideration.

The contest is made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (www.templeton.org).


SPONSORING ORGANIZATION: Bill of Rights Institute, Arlington, VA

The Bill of Rights Institute, founded in 1999, is a nonprofit educational organization. The mission of the Bill of Rights Institute is to educate young people about the words and ideas of America's Founders, the liberties guaranteed in our Founding documents, and how our Founding principles continue to affect and shape a free society.

FUNDING PROVIDED BY: John Templeton Foundation, West Conshohocken (Philadelphia), PA

CONTEST GOAL: To explore the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and the civic values that unite us as Americans.

ESSAY QUESTION: “What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American? Trace the enduring importance of this value throughout the American story by discussing: a Founding document that reflects this value; a figure from American history who embodies this value; and ways you can personally put this value into practice.”

STUDENTS ELIGIBLE: Students in grades 9-12 who are U.S. citizens or legal residents and are either attending public, private, religious, or charter schools, being home-schooled, or participating in a GED or correspondence school program but are no older than 19 years of age.

ESSAY LENGTH: No more 750 words.

Adherence to Essay Guidelines
Writing Style
Depth of Analysis

JUDGES: High school teachers

CASH PRIZES: Ten equal cash awards for students and teachers in each region:

First Prize: $5,000 each
Second Prize: $2,500 each
Third Prize: $1,250 each
Seven Honorable Mentions: $250 each

WASHINGTON, DC TRIP: The top three winners (first, second and third places) from each region, their teachers and a guardian will be awarded an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, DC, to include an Awards Gala on March 31, 2009.

CONTEST START DATE: September 2, 2008



WEB SITE AND CONTEST GUIDELINES: http://www.BeingAnAmerican.org

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