When Lehighton third grader Maura Phelan received an envelope from the AMVETS state headquarters this spring, she knew what to expect. Her older brother had received a similar envelope just two years ago.
A letter inside confirmed her hopes - she had won second place in the state's "Americanism Program," a contest offered by the national AMVETS association and offered to all students in Carbon County through the Lehighton AMVETS.
Now in fourth grade, Maura was officially recognized by her fellow students during a short program at Mahoning Elementary School this week. In attendance was Lehighton AMVETS chaplain James Wentz, who spoke to the young students about Maura and the contest that would take place this year.
"I want to thank all these boys and girls and your fine staff for encouraging participation in the contest," said Wentz. "They do a great job." He stood at the front of the crowd to share Maura's poster, award certificate, trophy and plaque.
The Americanism Program is offered in Lehighton to third and seventh grade students at each of the district's schools and St. Peter and Paul. Third graders complete a hand-drawn poster and short essay. Seventh grade students must complete a essay of 300 words or less.
Posters are judged by former Jim Thorpe art teacher Randy Rabenold, and one winner is chosen in each age group to move onto the state level competition. Winners at the state level proceed to the national competition.
Wentz explained that in the 16 years Lehighton has participated in the program, about a dozen students have been recognized at the state or national level.
"We've been very fortunate in Lehighton," he said. "We're very proud of the young men and women in our schools."
Maura's poster was titled "Veterans stand for military service," which won under the AMVETS theme of "What does an American veteran mean to me?" She said that she was proud of her poster's success, and that a lot of hard work went into her poster.
Winning the third grade poster contest has been her goal since Maura's older brother, Thomas, went to the AMVETS' national level in 2007. She was excited to win at the Lehighton level and proceed to states. Both are the children of Fenna Millen and John Phelan.
This year's contest will begin soon, when another group of third graders begin preparing their posters and essays for this year's theme. School Principal Aaron Sebelin said that he was looking forward to another year of posters, and the opportunity that it gives students to speak with parents and grandparents about their military service.
"A lot of this comes from those conversations," he said. "I'm extremely proud of Maura, and all of the other kids."