Ashley McNeely, a sophomore at Rome High School, recently placed as one of 10 state finalists in the Georgia Laws of Life Essay Competition.

The Laws of Life competition, sponsored by Georgia Rotary Clubs, asks students to select a short quote or saying and write about how it applies to an experience that has changed or molded their lives.

Ashley wrote her essay about getting her first job. Her law of life was a quote by Jim Rash that says, “Getting responsibility and structure are huge parts of growing up.”

In the essay, she discussed the process of applying for a job, the lessons she learned about responsibility and the difficulties she faced. Her English teacher, Hannah Bernstein, said Ashley struggled at first to determine a topic for her essay.

“Once she got the idea, she ran with it,” Bernstein said. “I was excited to call her last week and tell her that she’s one of the 10 qualifiers for state.”

Amanda Howell, chair of the English department at Rome High, said the school usually has a high participation rate in the Laws of Life contest, and this year was no different.

“Each spring, all of the students in our English classes are asked to participate,” Howell says. “This year I think 94% of our entire school participated in the contest.”

The high participation rate earned Rome High recognition as a School of Distinction, and 16 of its students were chosen as grade-level winners or honorable mentions.

Each teacher selects the best essays from their classes and submits them to Howell, who may then choose up to 12 per grade level to submit to the state competition.

“It’s so hard to choose,” Howell said. “This year we definitely sent in more than the requirement because we had so many wonderful essays.”

The state judges choose grade-level winners from each school. From these they determine a school winner, and then they choose the top 10 school winners as state finalists.

Rome High’s 2020 grade winners are Alya Samha, ninth grade; Ashley McNeely, 10th grade; Yamileth Rivas, 11th grade; and Lillian Hubbard, 12th grade.

Howell said the competition helps teachers connect with their students.

“We have a lot of students who have stories that they don’t tell every day,” she said. “As a teacher, it’s a special moment to get to know our students that way and to see sides of students that maybe we didn’t see before.”

The Laws of Life essay also gives students the opportunity to reflect on their life experiences and learn how to grow from them in the future.

“One of the things that we really discuss when we teach this unit is that one moment in a person’s life really can affect them down the road in many different ways,” Howell said.

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