Elizabeth Carpenter, from left, and Nailah Mensah display their trophies for being the top finishers at the Spring ISD Celebrating Diversity Oratory Contest.
HOUSTON – April 6, 2018 – Standing tall behind the podium on the stage of McNabb Elementary School, addressing an audience of parents, students and district staff, fourth-grader Elizabeth Carpenter spoke with clarity and earnestness, carefully delivering one of her key points to the crowd.
“It’s okay to be different,” Carpenter said, looking directly out at individual audience members for greater emphasis. “I’m different; so are you,” she pointed, “and you.”
Carpenter was at the mic Thursday evening representing Ponderosa Elementary School in the district’s 2018 Celebrating Diversity Oratory Contest. Altogether, seven contestants – fourth- and fifth-graders from five Spring ISD elementary schools – showed off their oratory skills while also vying for a chance to present their speech in front of the Spring ISD Board of Trustees.
After the judges had finished deliberating, Carpenter was awarded first place in the fourth-grade division. She was joined at the April 17 board meeting by the winner of the fifth-grade division, Nailah Mensah of Reynolds Elementary, who during her speech invoked the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” Mensah said, quoting King and channeling, for a moment, his famous passion and intensity. “Hate cannot drive out hate,” she continued, “only love can do that.” Mensah went on to describe how she and her friends at school, despite their outward differences, still had much in common.
“We are all human,” she said.
Participating students had been asked to address the question, “How can we start to eliminate prejudice and inequality in society and start treating everyone with dignity and respect?” Coordinated by campus Literacy Specialists, individual schools held their own contests leading up to the district event, with the winning speeches from each campus’ fourth and fifth grade eligible to compete at the district level.
“This was a collaborative project between the literacy department and the social studies department,” said Spring ISD Director of Core Content and Instructional Technology Dr. Susan Pelezo, who together with Literacy Director Jessica Jackson supervised the event.
“We wanted to celebrate all the wonderful diversity we have here in Spring ISD,” Pelezo said. “Diversity is very topical. Our kids are thinking about it, and they have thoughts and opinions about it. This gives them an opportunity to formulate and share those thoughts in an academic way. It’s a testament to the way Spring ISD is embedding literacy across the curriculum and getting students excited about language and learning.”
After the district winners had been chosen, Pelezo praised all of the participating students, and thanked them and their parents for all their hard work and preparation.
“They were so good, so eloquent in expressing their opinions,” Pelezo said. “They all showed a lot of maturity, and I loved how they used their own personal stories in their speeches. It’s really coming from the heart.”
The overall results in the Celebrating Diversity Oratory Contest are:
- Elizabeth Carpenter, Ponderosa Elementary – First Place
- Jeana Sydnor, McNabb Elementary – Second Place
- Abeer Siddiqui, Northgate Crossing Elementary – Third Place
- Nailah Mensah, Reynolds Elementary – First Place
- Jessica Lopez, McNabb Elementary – Second Place
- Percais Nunez, Northgate Crossing Elementary – Third Place
- Devontae Jones, Burchett Elementary – Honorable Mention