By Keith Whitcomb Jr. Staff Writer 

The Rutland school mascot, the Black Lives Matter movement, Vermont’s aging population, and misogyny were the topics earning prizes in this year’s Rutland County Writing Contest.

The contest has been held for the past few years by Michael Shank, communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, who also teaches a course at Castleton University on media, society and communication.

All of the winners are students at Rutland Middle School, enrolled in the Hickory House.

Taking the $500 first prize was Danielle Goldberg with her essay “Rutland’s Mascot.” Winning the second place $250 award was Kailyn Champine with her essay, “Vermont’s Aging Population,” and third place went to McKenzie Barnes, who won $100 for her essay, “Black Lives Matter.”

Winning a $50 honorable mention was Olivia Clouart for her essay “Misogyny.”

Goldberg and Clouart are both in seventh grade while Champine and Barnes are in eighth grade.

They were honored in a brief ceremony at Rutland Middle School’s auditorium on Friday. It’s the first time the contest has held such an event for the winners.

“The reason I founded this competition was for the following: I think most of you can probably agree that folks my age, I’m almost 50, aren’t doing a great job of running the country and running the world,” said Shank, who appeared via video. “There’s a lot of conflict out there, and there’s a lot of problems that we need new ideas and new solutions to, and so the reason I created this competition was to get that creative thinking out there in the world.”

Though their essays weren’t read in their entirety, pre-recorded excerpts from the authors were played for those in attendance.

“Though many say that we don’t need to change the mascot because it is not racist, I disagree,” wrote Goldberg. “If it hurts anybody, it should be changed.”

The school’s mascot had been the Rutland Raiders, but was changed to the Rutland Ravens. The controversy surrounding the change is ongoing.

“The mascot is something that people should know us by and something people should be inspired by,” said Goldberg. “This is why I think it should come from the students, we are the ones who play in the sports teams, we are the ones who make the art and play in the band, we are the ones who represent Rutland. The solution should be something to make us feel stronger.”

As for Vermont’s aging population, Champine believes the core of the issue is the job market and how the state markets itself.

“The main reason that this is a problem for Vermont is because of employment. How is this a problem for employment? Well this could be a problem because if you have a bunch of people who grow up in Vermont and move you won’t have new children to populate Vermont and then find new jobs,” she wrote. She then cited a story from Vermont Public Radio, and proposed to solve the state’s demographics issue by marketing maple syrup products and the ski industry.

Barnes, in her essay, said she believes more people need to be better educated about Black history.

“I have met a lot of people in my life and told them about mine and other people’s stories,” she said. “They have always said ‘Oh, I understand and I know what you’re going through,” but we all really know deep down they have no idea what we are going through.”

She said that everyone in the world should be “educated on Black history or Black people in general and what they go through or what it is like to be them. But I also understand that many people have their opinions of Black people in history, but they should still be educated on them so they know what’s right and wrong.”

Clouart’s essay on misogyny called for people to take action.

“If you already treat everybody equally, I can tell you some ways to help put a stop to misogyny,” she wrote. “You could tell your friends to spread the message, create or join a peaceful protest, promote equality on social media, make posters, and more. Peaceful protests help a lot, they help people change their mind about misogyny. You can make or join one. You can join a protest like the Women’s March. Stopping misogyny is very simple. But unfortunately, not everybody puts in effort to stop it. Even guys who think they are being harmless make misogyny even worse.”

Pati Beaumont, principal of Rutland Middle School, served as master of ceremonies..

Shank thanked Chris Van Sciver, teacher at Hickory School, for encouraging his students to enter the contest, as well as Meaghan Marsh, assistant principal at Rutland Middle School.

One of the difficulties of the assignment was the freedom they had in choosing the topics they could write a problem-solution essay about,” said Van Sciver. “Their essay could be about a local issue, it could be about a regional issue, national or international, students really had a wide variety of options to choose from.”

Shank said next year he plans to make the contest statewide.