CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Fifteen West Virginia school children are on their way to a brighter future with a SMART529 college savings plan after winning regional awards in the 2013 "When I Grow Up" essay contest.
The 15 were selected out of more than 4,500 entries from all over West Virginia, and each wins a $500 SMART529 WV Direct account.
An additional $4,500 in a SMART529 account was awarded to a grand prize winner, Marissa McCoy, a second-grade student at Union Educational Complex in Grant County.
Her name was selected during a random drawing held at the Clay Center on Thursday.
The schools the children attend will also be winners; each will receive $500 to support school programs.
SMART529 also awarded $2,500 cash to a West Virginia teacher who wrote an essay about how she planned to use Smart529 lesson plans in her classroom to encourage children to think about going to college.
"I am proud that this contest reaches more and more students every year," said state Treasurer John Perdue, noting that a record 4,500 entries were received during this year's contest. "A college education changed my life. It opened up opportunities that I never dreamed were possible."
Perdue said studies indicate that a college graduate will earn more than a million dollars more during his or her lifetime than an individual with only a high school degree.
"I want all of you to be successful," Perdue told the winners. "The best way to guarantee success is by continuing your education after high school."
The "When I Grow Up" Essay Contest and the Teachers' Essay Contest are sponsored by the SMART529 College Savings Program and the West Virginia State Treasurer's Office to promote awareness of SMART529 and the need to save for higher education.
The students' entries were judged by former state Board of Education member Priscilla Haden and Charleston Daily Mail Editor and Publisher Nanya Friend.
The teachers' entries were judged by Terry Reale, a consultant with the West Virginia Department of Education and its former coordinator for English and language arts.
The winner of the Teachers' Contest is Shana Poniris, a third-grade teacher at Paw Paw Elementary School in Morgan County. Poniris' winning lesson plan centered on the writing skills and future college and career planning of her students. Once the students selected their chosen career, they researched colleges and costs, job salaries and the best location for their profession after they graduate from college. The students also created a time capsule that included copies of their essays, maps of where they were going to live and something special from their home showing their personal interest.