Skip to main content

West Jordan Journal

Local veterans honor patriotic students, teacher

Apr 19, 2021 11:27AM ● By Jet Burnham

Ninth grade teacher Paige Dayley was honored by the local and district Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. (Photo courtesy of Paige Dayley.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Two local students and a teacher received scholarships and awards from an essay contest sponsored by a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

Bailey Cox, a ninth grader at Joel P. Jensen Middle School, won fourth place at the state level of Voice of Democracy, an essay contest for 9th to 12th graders. Tristan Duffin, an eighth grader at Sunset Ridge Middle, won second place at the district level in the contest for 7th to 8th graders, the Patriotic Pen.

Paige Dayley, Bailey’s language arts teacher, also was recognized by the VFW with two awards: the Voice of Democracy Teacher Award and the Stewart Mahara Award, given to outstanding teachers.

“I've met lots of teachers and she is an extraordinary person,” VFW Post 7442 Commander James Sheppard said. “Usually, I have to seek out teachers, but she actually called me. She is actually a very patriotic person, which is why she was presented the award.”

Dayley said she never expected to receive such an honor. She is excited to tell her father, who served in the Marines. He, like many Gulf War veterans, is in declining health with ALS, and she hasn’t been able to see him since the pandemic began.

Dayley was pleased to find the contest, which would provide her students with writing experience while exploring the topic of patriotism. She often gives her students writing assignments that are part of a scholarship opportunity or a contest.

“I just really like when their writing has an authentic audience, and it has connections to the community in particular,” she said. “I feel like they're able to do so much more with the topic when it's more meaningful and when it's not just an assignment for a grade but a chance for them to think about the world.”

Dayley was impressed with the essays her students wrote for the Voice of Democracy contest prompt “Is this the country that the founders envisioned?”

“I got some incredibly diverse, rich, well-thought-out, articulate responses from my students; they just really rose to the occasion,” she said. “I feel like this generation is aware of the world in a way that my generation, at their age, was not. They are so much more engaged with bigger issues. The ideas and the thoughts that they had were so commendable and so beyond their years. They pay attention to what's going on, and they're very well informed.”

Students were required to submit an audio recording of their essay. To ensure this would not be a burden that would prevent anyone from entering the contest, Dayley wrote a grant to fund the purchase of flash drives to store the audio recordings. She believes entering competitions helps build up students’ confidence.

“I think they appreciate the idea that they can be expected to rise above and to excel and to do good things with their words,” she said. “I think that for those students that win, it really helps them to see themselves in a different way—as smart and capable and serious students who have ideas that should be taken seriously, which is not always how you feel in junior high.”

The Patriotic Pen contest appealed to Tristan; he loves history and expressing his opinions.

“Even though I'm only 14, I know it's important to learn about what is going on in our country so that hopefully one day, when I am old enough to vote, I can make an educated decision,” Tristan said. “Doing this essay made me realize how much our country has gone through and all we have endured. It makes me proud to see how much we have overcome.”

Tristan’s mother, Alicia Duffin, encouraged him to enter the contest when, as scholarship coordinator at West Jordan High School, she heard about the scholarship opportunity. She believes it is never too early to start thinking about college scholarships.

“I knew if he entered and won at any level, it would be a good motivator for him to continue to apply for scholarships,” Duffin said.

Sheppard visits local schools each fall to promote the essay contest, which awards scholarship money at the local, district, state and national levels.

“This is probably the easiest scholarship you can ever have because all they have to do is write an essay,” Sheppard said. “I hope the kids learn a little bit about patriotism, but at the same time, if they win the grand prize scholarship, it's worth $30,000.”