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Earth Day Debacle

By Tina Traster

On Saturday, Nyack held its 2011 Earth Day celebration at Memorial Park. There was music, environmental education and frolicking for children on the lawn. Unfortunately, the organizers missed a critical opportunity to pay tribute to the literary arts, and to honor elementary school children who participated in an earth-day themed poetry and essay contest.

On Friday afternoon, a few children from Valley Cottage came home with notices saying that they were ‘€œfinalists’€ in poetry/essay contest. In Valley Cottage, the third grade class had been given the chance to write in a reading enrichment class. The notice also said winners would be announced at the Earth Day festival, which would be held between 11 and 6 on Saturday.

This was news to some of the parents who received this notice. Naturally, parents called Valley Cottage Elementary to see what this was about but nobody had any information. At the very least, parents wanted to know what time this poetry/essay awards ceremony would take place. The notice said 11-6 ‘€“ a pretty long stretch of time.

Investigation revealed that over the last several months 13 schools in Orangetown and Nyack and the Blue Rock School had been asked to participate in this Earth Day contest, which was organized by Marianne Olive, Nyack’s parks commissioner. Apparently there had been about 40 entries and six winners. One former educator was the sole judge for the contest, which whittled down four poetry winners and two essay winners.

Nothing about the contest was publicized. Not through the Nyack schools district; not through the Earth Day celebration committee. This precious event ‘€“ a chance to promote and celebrate the literary arts at a time when children are jacked up on electronic devices and other distractions ‘€“ was kept in the dark. Even parents whose children were finalists knew nothing about the contest, or the fact that awards would be given and children would read their works.

Unsurprisingly, most of the award winners were not at the park Saturday. And some of the finalists who were there were not given any mention. Even the Journal News, which covered the event, failed to even include a line in its story about the poetry/essay contest.

All around, this event was a lost opportunity. I would hope that in the future someone with skill and finesse takes charge of this event and acts as a liaison between the school and the village’s earth day committee. Also, I would hope that more than one person would serve as a judge ‘€“ a panel of at least three would be fair. Finally, if there are only a few finalists, it is fine to award top prizes, but at least make honorary mentions to the few who came close. After all, Earth Day is all about creating stewards of our planet. Is there a better way to do that than to celebrate those who can do so in prose and poetry?

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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