By Chris Collins and Jayson Jacoby
Baker City Herald
When eighth-grader Kate Jesenko's teacher announced the assignment in December, Kate didn't dread the task ahead.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
The assignment from Chelsea Hurliman, who teaches at Baker Middle School, was more than just classwork.
It was also a contest - the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars "Patriots Pen" essay competition.
Hurliman wasn't surprised that Kate, 13, earned an "A" on the assignment, in which Hurliman instructed Kate and her classmates to complete an essay on the topic of "What Patriotism Means to Me."
But even Hurliman was bursting with pride when Kate's essay won not only the local competition, but the district contest and then went on to win second place at the state level.
Kate's writing skills earned her cash awards of $100 from the local VFW Post, $75 at the district level, and $150 at the state competition.
"This is a pretty big deal," Hurliman said.
Kate, the daughter of John and Andie Jesenko of Baker City, said she enjoyed the assignment because she wants to pursue a career as a writer.
But she didn't figure on winning three cash prizes and almost advancing to the national essay competition.
"It was really exciting because I didn't expect much," Kate said. "It encouraged me to do more essays like this."
Kate said she particularly likes to write, and to read, fiction.
Writing a first-person essay was a new challenge.
"It was a different kind of writing for me," she said.
Kate said she wrote two rough drafts of her essay before finishing the final version in one day.
"I had some ideas in my head but I really wanted to think about it," she said.
Kate said she didn't read any other essays in preparation.
"I wanted it all to come from me," she said.
Two other students also placed in the local contest. Eighth-grader Kayley Burke placed second at the local level and Kolton Dahl placed second for the seventh-graders.
In addition to science, Hurliman teaches seventh- and eighth-grade language arts classes for students who are talented and gifted in that subject.
The talented and gifted designation means the students in those classes have developed strong basic writing skills, Hurliman said.
The topic of patriotism was more easily understood and expressed by some students, but Hurliman said "there were definitely a few who had to go to a dictionary."
In addition to being "an amazing writer," Hurliman said Kate is "an all-around nice human being to be around," an attribute that has earned her Baker Middle School Student of the Month honors.
"She's pleasant and kind and an all-around good kid," Hurliman said.
In addition to her academic accomplishments, Kate also is involved in 4-H where she shows chickens and pigs, Hurliman said. She also plays the oboe and enjoys soccer.