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Chocachatti’s Fifth Grade Essay Contest Winner

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When most kids complete a school essay assignment, the most that they hope for is an ‘A’ and a decorative sticker from the teacher. Yet Leilani Nurse, a fifth-grader at Chocachatti Elementary School in Spring Hill, has written a single essay that has earned her two top honors, awarded at state and county levels.

Leilani is the third-place winner of this year’s Florida Retired Educators Association Annual Fifth Grade Essay Contest. She is the first-place winner of the Hernando County Retired Educators Association (HCREA) Essay Contest. Her winning work, “Differences Don’t Make A Difference,” is a 511-word account of Leilani’s very different but equally enjoyable summer vacation trips with two doting grandmas.

The Fifth Grade Essay Contest, according to the FREA website, was created to encourage writing abilities in fifth-grade students. It is also a wonderful way for students to show appreciation and love for the important older people in their lives, be they grandparents or someone close who enhances their life on a daily basis.

Nancy Snyder, a former Hernando County reading coach and member of HCREA, serves on the essay committee and loved the theme and execution of Leilani’s essay concept.

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“We chose Leilani’s well-written essay ‘Differences Don’t Make a Difference’ because she compared and contrasted adventures she had taken with four sets of grandparents,” she said. “Leilani explained why she had several grandparents and also explained their different styles of vacation planning. Her essay and ending referred back to her title and theme.”

Leilani will be awarded a check in the amount of $50, as well as a poster of her winning essay, and will be invited to attend an awards ceremony at the annual FREA Convention on Wednesday, May 17, 11:30 am at Bluegreen’s Bayside Resort and Spa in Panama City.
“The essay was a class requirement,” the 11-year-old enthused. “But I enjoyed it so much.”
When assigned by Chocachatti Elementary School teacher Crystal Hyde to write up an entry for the HCREA essay contest, the adoring granddaughter treasured the opportunity to discuss a summer well spent with her extended family. “I had a great summer with each grandma,” she reported. “We did different things, but it was all so much fun.”

Although artistic by nature, ‘Differences Don’t Make a Difference’ marks Leilani’s debut as a formal essayist. “I study dance,” she said. “I’ve been dancing since I was three, and I like to choreograph routines and write music. Writing essays wasn’t really a hobby.”

In composing her essay, Leilani overcame the challenges associated with creating a long form piece of writing. “I couldn’t believe I had to write at least 500 words!” she marveled. “But once I started my story, it went so fast.”
Leilani greatly enjoyed the process of penning a personal memoir relatable to kids her age. “I thought back to my stories about my grandmas,” she said. “It made me happy.” Leilani also keeps busy as a budding civil servant at Chocachatti Elementary School, where she is a judge at the junior court and an active member of Crime Stoppers.

In the future, this talented student hopes to write and star in her own movie. In the meantime, she aims to write more essays and encourage other kids to enter writing competitions. “Give it a try,” she encouraged. “You never know what could happen.”

HCREA Rep. Sharon Twyman. Middle is Rhonda Love and right is President of HCREA Laurie Pellito.

“Differences Don’t Make a Difference”
by Leilani Nurse

Most children have two sets of grandparents but what makes me different is that I have four sets of grandparents. Does that confuse you? Let me explain. My mom’s mom and dad are divorced. Mom mom’s mom is Yaya and my mom’s other mother is Ita. If you don’t know what an “other mother” is, it is a stepmother sent by God to bring extra love to the family. My dad’s parents are also divorced and have both remarried, which is how I have four sets of grandparents. Now most divorced parents do not get along, but I am lucky that my grandparents get along great.
So now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about my summer vacations with my two grandmothers’. My grandmothers are complete opposite, let me explain! Yaya flows with the breeze while Ita likes to have everything planned. Yaya lives in the country while Ita lives in the city. Yaya likes to go glamping while Ita likes resorts. And that’s not all! Yaya likes adventures while Ita likes spa days.
Over the summer break I am glad to say that I was able to spend time with both my grandmother’s equally and have two totally different experiences. Now let me share my adventures. In the beginning of the summer, I went with my Yaya on our annual Yogi Bear Glamping trip for a week in her motor home named “Bodacious”, which it was named after they found a broken Bidet and thought it was hilarious. My Yaya surprised us with the best spot by the lake. It was a far walk but Yaya brought the golf cart so that we could get around in style. We went to the water park daily and it was so much fun, even though it made my eyes blurry after swimming all day and going down the water slide over and over again. I was still super excited to go back to the pool every day. Yaya also took me to the gift shop almost every night before dinner to get ice cream, but don’t tell my mom. I had a blast, until next summer Yogi Bear.
A few weeks later, I went to spend a week in Jacksonville with my Ita. When we got there, she had the entire week planned out and was excited to share the plans with us. During the week we went somewhere different each day. We went to the nail salon, the movies, Main Event, shopping, Jekyll Island water park and we ended every day in their pool. I even had a friend sleep over and we had a pizza party. I was so excited to do all the fun stuff Ita planned and was sad when the week came to an end as the week went by way too fast.
Though my Yaya and Ita are so different I had a great time with both. I love them exactly the same and differences don’t make a difference.

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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