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Highlands students top winners in Barbara Jordan citywide contest

HIGHLANDS– Highlands Junior School students were a dominating force in this year’s Barbara Jordan speech and essay competitions sponsored by the Alley Theatre, winning first place in both categories as well as several other top honors.

The students, all seventh graders in Kerry Reinhackel’s gifted and talented education (GATE) class, were on hand for the finals of the speech competition and subsequent awards ceremony held on the Alley Theatre’s Large Stage on Feb. 3.

Jana Creel, daughter of Marylu and Dwayne Hill, emerged as the first-place winner of the speech contest with her four-minute speech inspired by a family visit to the Holocaust Museum. Competing against seven other finalists in the final round of the third annual contest, Jana compared the Holocaust with the September 11 tragedy, making suggestions for “what we can do to prevent something that horrible from happening again.”

In her speech, Jana described the museum’s rows of shoes representing the lives lost in the Holocaust and relating those to the baby booties left in memory of the mothers and fathers who died during the 2001 terrorist attack.

“Barbara Jordan told us that to create a harmonious society out of so many kinds of people, the key we need is tolerance. She called it the one value that is indispensable in creating community,” Jana said. “We can begin that community tonight, right here, right now. We can agree to walk out of here committed to not repeating the acts that leave us with museums full of lifeless shoes, and memorials where booties are left to those who will never see those little feet walk or run.”

Jana, the reigning Junior Miss Highlands and a sports enthusiast, aspires to be a pediatrician or forensic scientist when she grows up. She realone. Three other Highlands Junior students—Michelle Lamb, Felicia Young and Courtney Zink—earned recognition in the essay competition, receiving a letter of acknowledgement and a Barbara Jordan pin for their efforts.

Judges for the speech contest included Houston Comet Kelly Gibson; Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton; Texas Southern University president Dr. Priscilla Slade; and respresentatives from the Barbara Jordan Project community partners. Maria Todd of the 104 KRBE morning radio show served as mistress of ceremonies. Speeches were judged on presentation, articulation, organization, elaboration and passion.

Essays were judged by a panel of educators and volunteers from JPMorgan Chase on the originality of ideas, appropriateness of subject, insight, development of point of view and clarity of expression.

There’s no doubt that Reinhackel felt an enormous swell of pride at the awards ceremony as her four students walked across the stage to accept their awards.

“When Jana won the speech contest, and we’d already won the essay contest, I was just beside myself, knowing we’d swept the whole thing,” Reinhackel said, grinning at her students during a recent photo session.

“They’re awesome,” she continued. “You give them an assignment, and they just go after it!