We’re pleased to announce the winners of The Nation‘s fifth annual Student Writing Contest.
This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing how their education has been compromised by budget cuts and tuition hikes. We received hundreds of submissions from high school and college students in forty-four states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Amanda Lewan of Michigan State University and Melissa Parnagian of Old Bridge High School in New Jersey. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists, $200 each. All receive
Nation subscriptions. — The Editors

Some might think that all that you need in order to learn is a textbook, a worksheet and a teacher who explains to you how to do a math problem or puts notes on the board for you to copy. This seems to have been the mentality of the government officials who implemented such drastic cuts on the Cherry Hill school district. Their actions have curtailed not only our extracurricular activities but also essential courses we might need in order to lay the foundations for our future major. If you were to walk into our school right now, you would think you had stepped into a world ten years back in time—judging from the facilities which are available. Budget cuts have compromised my high school education in some painful ways: in the past year, we have not had a single field trip; our classes have been large and unruly; the SAT program has been minimized; and there are fewer athletic facilities.

Any high school student (and probably any college student) will tell you that learning is most enjoyable when interesting activities are implemented in the process. The classroom scenario can quickly become stale if it is not infused with a change of pace. For example, in English class, many students consider reading Shakespeare to be a laborious task. I remember struggling through Romeo and Juliet. But when we went on a field trip to see the play, it suddenly came to life: not only the plot but the appearance and demeanor of the characters and how they said their lines. I returned to the play with a fresh curiosity. But this year, we are reading Julius Caesar, with no field trip. No watching the conspirators hatch their plot, or Antony making his famous speech; the experience is not so rich, and we just won’t remember it.

Another thing that all students will tell you: learning is invariably affected by class size. Over this past year, we have been cramped, compressed against other students, barely able to move. In these conditions, your mind doesn’t even think about learning; you just wait there looking at the clock, desperate for the class to end so you can stretch your arms and legs and finally breathe! Needless to say, such large classes are difficult for a teacher to control, and of course students get a minimal amount of feedback on their work. It is a poor situation for students and teachers alike.

At the end of such days, I hoped I might be able to indulge my passion for soccer—to train, to play and, yes, to let off some steam. This was not only a form of recreation for me but also a way to get me focused, because after soccer practice I go home and study. But even this has been taken away: the board has also decided to cut many sports such as soccer, lacrosse, golf and field hockey.

At the end of this year in a rapidly dilapidating school environment, I was looking forward to using the summer to improve my SAT skills. But the SAT prep course has been reduced to four days. Four days in a summer vacation that is two-and-a-half-months long! How can we be expected to do as well as students from previous years, who had the benefit of taking the full course?

These are only a few of the ways in which my education has directly been compromised. But more important will be the long-term effects: Our lives as a whole are going to be impoverished; we will be less skilled, less proficient and less educated than the youth of other nations. This educational deficiency surely will have a detrimental impact on our state and our nation. An undereducated workforce and an undereducated populace can hardly get us out of this recession or make our nation competitive; nor can it create good citizens or strengthen our democracy. When the government disinvests in education, it is crippling the youth who are its highest hope for the future.