Fall 2017 National Student Writing Competition: Standing Up for Our Neighbors

Want to inspire your students to write? Here's an opportunity to write about something meaningful and for an audience beyond the classroom.
Japanese American Internment.jpg

How exactly do we “let it not happen again” when federal agents come for our neighbors? What can a community really do to guard civil liberties and lives?

Photo by by Dorothea Lange via NARA / Flickr

The YES! National Student Writing Competition is an opportunity for middle school through university students to write about something meaningful, and a chance to write for a real audience—not just you, the teacher.

Each quarter, students are invited to read and write an essay on a selected YES! Magazine article. We divide contestants into four categories: middle school, high school, university, and Powerful Voice (for authors whose essays are powerful and passionate). Winning essays in each category are published on the YES! Magazine website and in our online education newsletter.

Essays are due tomorrow, Friday, Nov. 3. Email essays to [email protected] . Be sure to send Student Release Form too.

Registration is closed for this contest. Stay tuned for winter contest details in early November.

Sign up our YES! For Teachers newsletter to be notified about future student writing contests.

Click here for general information about the writing competition.

Read recent featured essays here.



Standing Up for Our Neighbors

In March 1942, 22-year-old Kay Nakao was one of 227 American citizens and their Japan-born parents forcibly taken from their homes on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and put on trains and buses destined for a concentration camp in the California desert. Kay, now 97, recalls how individual neighbors were kind and the community was quietly supportive, but no Japanese people were saying, “We won’t go!” and unlike today no people were carrying signs and protesting, “Don’t take our neighbors!”

This fall, students will read and respond to the YES! Magazine article, What Japanese Internment Taught Us About Standing Up for Our Neighbors, by YES! editorial director Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz. Tracy is part of the Japanese American community on Bainbridge Island, Washington—the first community in the nation to be rounded up by soldiers and sent to concentration camps  during World War II. She reflects on the Japanese saying nidoto nai yoni: "Let it not happen again," and what communities might do differently today to protect the civil liberties of our vulnerable neighbors.


The Writing Prompt

Students, please respond to the writing prompt below with an up-to-700-word essay:

Think about someone in your school or community who is vulnerable and may need protection or support. This person may be a neighbor or a classmate—it may even be you. Are you willing and brave enough to stand up against injustice? Describe what you would do, and how your actions might make a difference.


Who is eligible?

  • You must be a classroom teacher—homeschool cooperative, resource centers, supervised writing groups, and schools outside the U.S. included—for your students to participate.
  • Student writers should be in grades 6-8, grades 9-12, college/university, or adult continuing education.


How does it work?

• Complete and send the competition registration form by Sept. 22, 2017 (see link at bottom of page).
• Students respond to the YES! article with an essay up to 700 words.
• Submit up to three essays per class period, along with student release forms, by Nov. 3, 2017.
• For each of the following categories, YES! staff will select one essay that we feel is well-written, compelling, and captures the spirit of the article:
* Middle School (Grades 6-8)
* High School (Grades 9-12)
* College/university
* Powerful Voice (for an author whose essay is uniquely powerful or thought-provoking)
• The selected essays will be featured on the YES! Magazine website and in our online education newsletter, reaching thousands of YES! readers, including over 16,000 teachers.


Common Core State Standards

This writing competition meets several Common Core State Standards for grades 6-12, including W.9-10.3 and W.9-10.4 for Writing, and RI.9-10.1 and RI.9-10.2 for Reading: Informational Text *
*This standard applies to other grade levels. “9-10” is used as an example.


What are the essay requirements?

• Respond to the article and writing prompt provided by YES!
• Provide an original essay title
• Reference the article in the essay
• No more than 700 words
• Must be original and unpublished
• Teachers must read and submit their students' essays. Remember, the limit is three essays per class period. Please take time to read your students' essays to ensure they have met essay requirements, including correct grammar. Unfortunately, we cannot accept essays sent independently by students.

In addition, we are evaluating essays for (see rubric at bottom of page):
• Grammar
• Organization
• Strong style and personal voice. We encourage writers to include personal examples and insights.
• Originality and clarity of content and ideas


How do I submit the three best essays from my class?

• You must be registered for the contest by Sept. 22.
• E-mail your three best student essays to [email protected] no later than Nov. 3.  Submissions must be sent as a Word attachment or pasted into the body of the email.
• Include a scanned, completed student release form with each essay. Student email addresses must be legible and visible—preferably typed. NOTE: Please submit all student essays by Nov. 3, even if there are missing release forms.  Send in completed students releases as soon as you receive them.


Forms You'll Need:

Registration Form
Student Release Form
Evaluation Rubric


Future Contests

*Winter 2018

Details announced: Nov. 6

Registration due: Dec. 8

Essays due: Jan. 26


*Spring 2018

Details announced: Feb. 8

Registration due: March 2

Essays due: April 17


Questions? Please email [email protected]

Thank you for joining us!


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