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Word Nerd High School Essay Contest

A. Who’s Eligible:

All Central Oregon middle school and high school students, including students whose teacher is not participating and home-schooled students.

B. Purpose of the “Words Matter” Essay Contest

As a newspaper serving Central Oregon since 1903 (115 years), our success, like any good newspaper, has been our ability to bring our world to life, in the words we write and the pictures we provide. The ability to communicate facts, ideas, and different points of view about complex issues is critical in making the newspaper interesting and important to readers’ daily lives.

As students, your ability to know and use the appropriate words to read and write well (to be literate) is a life skill, which will contribute to a life of engagement, thoughtfulness, purpose and even curiosity and wonder.

As community members, our ability to understand and communicate with others through the use of the best and most effective words is so important. In short, “Words Matter.”

C. Student essays will respond to the following question:

“Free Speech: What is it to you and should there be limits?”


The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech , or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Free Speech Today: Almost every day, in the media and in public conversations, the nature and “acceptable” levels and forms of free speech are being discussed in our classrooms, at our dinner tables, and in our cities, states and country. It is an age-old issue, but, today, there are so many different levels and platforms for individuals to express themselves. Is that a challenge to or strength of our democracy? Is it reflecting what our Founders intended in the First Amendment?

Questions to think about : As a young person in Central Oregon and living in America, here are some important questions to think about as you sit down to organize and write your response to the question, “Free Speech: What is it to you and should there be limits? ”

• What does free speech mean to me?

• Should there be limits? If so, what might they be and how can they be justified?

• What is offensive, incitable, provocative and/or hateful speech and where do we, as a society, draw the line?

• What are “safe spaces” and are they appropriate?

• Are there dangers to our democracy in limiting free speech?

The Basic Things to Know:

Word Length : Essay must be from 500-650 words (double spaced)

Submission Deadline : The essay is due no later than Friday, March 16, 2018 at 5:00 p.m.

Winning Selections Announcement : Student winners will be notified by May 1, 2018 .

D. Address Essay to “Authentic” Audience:

Address your essay to the Central Oregon public. It is an opportunity for you to inform and educate the public.

E. Minimum Qualifying Requirements - Essay Length, Deadline and Rules:

• Word Length : Essay must be from 500-650 words (double spaced), and each written page must be numbered.

• Type Size : Essay must be typed in easy-to-read 12 pt. font and submitted electronically (as an attachment) in a WORD or PDF format by the individual student or by a teacher’s file attachment.

• Supporting Sources , when used, must be cited properly. Footnotes/works cited are not considered part of the word count. Your essay must have at least two verifiable references/examples from one or more of the following sources:

• Media: print (e.g., The Bulletin and other newspapers, books, magazines) or electronic (e.g., television, radio, websites [incl. newspaper websites] and social media)

• Historical events and references

• Free speech case law: Examples: Schenck v. U.S. [1919] and Tinker v. Des Moines [1969]

• No name should appear on essay pages.

• Title Page : Each entry must begin with:

- a title page containing: the official topic, “Words Matter”

- total number of words

- writer’s name, school name, school address, grade, contact phone number/email

Important Note : do not number the title page

• Entry Form : Each entrant, must print out, complete, sign (parent signature for those under 18) and submit the entry form with the completed essay. The form includes—student name, grade, school, school address, contact information (email/ phone), signature line, and permission to use your essay, if selected, either in The Bulletin newspaper and/or The Bulletin website at www.bendbulletin.com. The participation certificate name will be taken from the entry form.

• Submission Deadline : The entry form, along with the essay (and title page), must be received by email attachment or teacher’s file no later than Friday, March 16 at 5:00p.m. (No exceptions). Please don’t wait until the last minute.

• Submit to : Turn your entry form and essay (with title page) into your teacher electronically. They will forward to the Bulletin NIE Program at nie@bendbulletin.com .

F. Scoring Process and Criteria:

A submitted essay will be scored by a panel of judges on a point scale of 1 (lowest) to 9 (highest) on how well the essay addresses the following criteria:

• Position statement (clarity relative to theme)

• Supporting Information (supports the position)

• Organization (structure) - MLA format recommended

• Tone of Essay (level of persuasiveness)

• Writing with an authentic voice and unique point of view and style.

• Grammar (sentence structure and use of words)

• Punctuation (correct punctuation and spelling)

G. Judging:

• Judging will be blind.

• Bulletin NIE staff will score and ensure all essays meet the minimum qualifying requirements (Section E).

• Selected Bulletin and Editorial Staff will score finalists and select the winners.

• All participants will receive a Certificate of Participation.

• Student winners will be notified by May 1, 2018.

H. Prizes and Recognition

Middle School Student Entrants

First Place: $100 Gift Card, essay published in The Bulletin, participation certificate

Second Place: $50 Gift Card, participation certificate

Third Place: $25 Gift Card, participation certificate

High School Student Entrants

First Place: $100 Gift Card, essay published in The Bulletin, participation certificate

Second Place: $50 Gift Card, participation certificate

Third Place: $25 Gift Card, participation certificate

Certificate of Participation: All Participants whose essays are submitted to The Bulletin will receive a Certificate of Participation.

Selections Published on The Bulletin Website: The Bulletin will publish the first through third-place winners (middle school and high school), along with the honorable mention essays on The Bulletin website.


How to Enter Your Students’ Essays:

Upon receipt of student essays, save each student entry (including: the entry form, title page and essay) as a PDF (if possible).

Please name and save your student entry files in the following manner:

• By the first three letters of the school as a school abbreviation, followed by the level (ms or hs), followed by student’s last name, followed by first name.

• For example, the submission for a student who went to La Pine High School by the name of John Doe would be saved as: laphs.doe.john

• If that same student went to Cascade Middle School it would be saved as casms.doe.john.

• This will make it easier for us to organize entries and follow-up, etc.

Please send your student entries as an attachment(s) to: nie@bendbulletin.com with the subject line Words Matter Student Essay Contest Entries and your school’s name. (NOTE: The Bulletin does NOT accept zip files. Please do not send them; it will fail)

*** Reminder : The deadline for entries is Friday, March 16, 2018 . Of course, you can send them in earlier. Student winners will be notified by May 1, 2018 .

Contest Correlation with Common Core State Standards (ELA-Literacy, Grades 6-12)

Writing with a purpose and for an authentic audience:

6-12.1 Write arguments to support claims (in an analysis of substantive topics or texts) using clear/valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

6-12.4 Produce a clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.

6-12.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting. . .

6-12.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

6-12.10 Write routinely over extended period of time frames (time for research, reflection and revision)... for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Questions?: Email nie@bendbulletin.com


Attached documents:

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Essay Contest

About the Contest

The Lasker Essay Contest engages young scientists and clinicians in a discussion about big questions in biology and medicine, and the role of biomedical research in our society today.  The Contest aims to build skills in communicating important medical and scientific issues to broader audiences.  The Essay Contest topics are announced annually no later than the second week of February and can be found on this webpage.

The topic of the 2018 Essay Contest is: How can social media help build trust in science and the research enterprise? Your answer should include a discussion of the benefits and challenges of your recommendations. 

The deadline to submit all materials is March 30, 2018. Winners will be announced in early July on our web site.


The Contest is open to medical school students, interns, residents, and fellows; doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows in biomedical research; graduate students in public health programs; and graduate students in other health professions programs.  The 2018 Essay Contest is open to both US and international applicants, including those from programs outside the US.


First-place award is $10,000 and an expense-paid trip (economy class travel and one-night hotel stay) to New York City to meet the 2018 Lasker Award winners (on September 21, 2018). Second- and third-place prizes are $5000 and $2500, respectively. All monetary prizes are to be used towards educational expenses.


Essays should be of 800 words or less and must be written in English. The file containing the essay should include the essay title and the applicant's name, email, and institutional affiliation. Figures and references are not required but one image (uploaded separately) and up to 10 references (included within the text body) may be submitted. Specific examples from the world of biomedical research should be included in your essay to illustrate your ideas more effectively. Field-specific scientific jargon should be avoided or explained.

Evaluation criteria

Essays will be evaluated based on 1) the innovation of the ideas and proposals and 2) how well these ideas are conveyed, i.e. the quality of writing, style, and clarity. Essays that are not written in English or are longer than 800 words will not be considered. 

Subscribe to our Newsletter to receive updates about the Essay Contest program and winners:

2017 essay contest and winners

2016 essay contest and winners

2015 essay contest and winners

2014 essay contest and winners

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