A sixth-grade student at Desert Shadows Middle School has written an essay so good, it won second-place at the state level in contest meant for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

Melina Oropeza's essay was written as part of the nationwide "Patriot's Pen" contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said Larry Brown, contest coordinator for the Nogales-based VFW Post 2066.

Oropeza was first named the winner among the 180 entrants in Post 2066's local contest. Then she won first place in a region district that stretches up to Safford. And last Saturday, Brown said, Oropeza won second-place at the statewide contest.

"You make us proud to be an American, let me tell you that," Brown told her during a Jan. 17 meeting of the Nogales Unified School District governing board.

As a result of her showing in the state contest, Oropeza has been invited to a ceremony at the VFW in Sierra Vista, where she will received a plaque and what Brown said was a little more than $500. That's on top of the $300 savings bond, certificate and medallion she won from Post 2066.

Desert Shadows eight-grader Loren Nicole Chamberlain also excelled in the contest, which this year featured the question "Are you proud of your country?" as its topic. Chamberlain won second place in the Post 2066 contest, Brown said, which means she was awarded a $200 savings bond plus a certificate and medallion.

Brown, a combat veteran and high school teacher who has been judging the contest for the past eight years, said this year's crop or entries was especially outstanding.

"Reading these essays took me about three boxes of Kleenex," he said.

Brown praised the schools of Santa Cruz County for their support of the annual contest.

"This doesn't happen on accident," he said of the students' high-quality work. "For the last eight years, the middle schools here have really done a great job of introducing this essay contest to the children.

"I'll tell you what," he continued, "at Desert Shadows, they've got a couple teachers over there that really take this to heart."

For more information about the Patriot's Pen contest, see www.vfw.org/


The VFW also sponsors a similar contest for high school students called Voice of Democracy. Learn more at www.vfw.org/Community/Voice-of-Democracy.