2018-05-24 / News

Lawn students earn statewide accolades

BY RYAN GIBBS


Lawn School eighth-graders Julia Cotsonas, from left, Molly Egan, Audrey Magarian, Jesse Long, Natalie Conover, Gabbie Carnevale, Hannah Contino, Olivia Rogers, Kelsey Gouveia, Alicia Holland and Nayan Sapers represented Jamestown at the National History Day state competition April 28 at Rhode Island College. Conover and Sapers advanced to the national competition next month in Maryland for placing first and second at the state event, respectively. Lawn School eighth-graders Julia Cotsonas, from left, Molly Egan, Audrey Magarian, Jesse Long, Natalie Conover, Gabbie Carnevale, Hannah Contino, Olivia Rogers, Kelsey Gouveia, Alicia Holland and Nayan Sapers represented Jamestown at the National History Day state competition April 28 at Rhode Island College. Conover and Sapers advanced to the national competition next month in Maryland for placing first and second at the state event, respectively. Two Lawn School eighth-graders have culminated their academic careers in Jamestown with feathers in their caps.

Natalie Conover was honored by the Rhode Island Foreign Language Association and Nayan Sapers received the Gandhi Award for Compassion & Selfless Service. They were both recognized May 4.

Sapers was nominated for the Gandhi prize, which is administered by the Center for Nonviolence at the University of Rhode Island, by his social studies teacher, Maureen McGuirl. She said he topped all criteria, which includes empathy, generosity and leadership.

“He is always helping fellow students,” McGuirl said. “He can work with any student. He is a role model because he works so hard to be the very best. He’s exceeded expectations to make a strong contribution to whatever he’s doing. He’s a wonderful student.”

Along with his schoolwork, Sapers also shines in his extracurricular activities, from playing on the soccer team to representing the student body at leadership meetings.

Although Sapers understood why McGuirl chose to nominate him, he was humble about being one of seven Rhode Island eighth-graders mentioned alongside Gandhi’s name at the State House.

“It’s beneficial to always be nice and kind to everyone with every opportunity you have,” he said. “I thought it was really thoughtful of Ms. McGuirl to elect me for it.”

The ceremony included readings of the winning essays and an actor portraying Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, the peaceful Indian activist who led his country’s independence movement.

“It was really cool,” Sapers said. “They put a lot of effort into the ceremony.”

Like Sapers, Conover also credits a teacher with her award. Spanish instructor Michaela Onosko has incorporated the poster contest into her class annually, and this is the fourth time Conover has entered a submission to the Rhode Island Foreign Language Association.

Students were asked to create posters that highlight language as the key to cultural understanding. Instead of thinking about that theme in a loose, figurative sense, Conover’s design includes a series of interconnected padlocks, each decorated with a national flag and “I love you” written in the language of that country. The poster was inspired by bridges in Paris that are covered in “love locks,” which are padlocks secured onto the spans by couples as a symbol of their love. Conover said she wanted love to be at the forefront.

“That’s something that is said worldwide and it doesn’t really change,” she said. “It was something I could find really easily from every different nationality.”

Conover estimates she worked nightly for a week to complete the poster. She said most of that time wasn’t looking up languages or drawing the flags, but figuring how to design the locks and banner, which had to describe the theme while blending with the art.

Conover said Spanish has become one of her favorite subjects because of Onosko’s approach to teaching. Along with the poster contest, the class has watched the Pixar film “Coco” in Spanish and the students also have become pen pals with schoolchildren in Ecuador.

“She really likes to involve the students in the lessons,” Conover said. “It’s not just a class where you’re sitting down and she’s lecturing. You’re working with the rest of your class.”

After the posters were submitted to Onosko, the teachers at Lawn voted for their five favorite designs. Conover topped that list and was entered into the state competition. A few weeks later, Conover arrived from her walk to school to see a smiling Onosko.

“I have great news,” her teacher said, “you won.”

“I was shocked,” Conover said.

Her friends also were excited, even though Conover canceled plans with them to work on the poster.

“They thought it was cool that my work wasn’t wasted,” she said.

While receiving her award was the highlight of the ceremony for Conover at The 95 Club on the Kingston campus, she was impacted by the story of Josef Madour, a senior at Cumberland High School who won the association’s student of the year.

“He had moved from Syria in his freshman year,” she said. “He didn’t know English, and now he’s learned five languages and he’s going to Brown. That was really cool to learn that it doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s all about how much dedication you put in.”

Sapers, who is a classmate of Conover’s, thought she deserved to win the contest. Conover reciprocated, saying Sapers was the perfect candidate for the Ghandi honor. She said he was a “very dedicated” student who was “probably going to be the valedictorian.”

“He’s always been, since the first time I met him, the one that goes the extra mile,” she said.

While both students graduate from middle school in less than a month, they are still working to pad their scholarly achievements. Sapers and Conover will represent Jamestown on National History Day at the University of Maryland from June 10-14. The competition features middle-schoolers from around the country showcasing projects based on a singular theme. This year it’s conflict and compromise.

National History Day, Mc- Guirl said, is similar to a science fair. Both Sapers and Conover have created websites. Sapers’ page is about the independence movement in India while Conover, along with classmate Jesse Long, has focused on the Civil War reconstruction and the presidential election of 1876. McGuirl chose these projects for the statewide fair at Rhode Island College last month, and both were selected to represent the Ocean State.

The teens are excited to represent their award-winning school on the national level.

“This school is such a great place,” Sapers said. “It fosters all your abilities and allows you to pursue anything you want.”

“It’s mostly the teachers, too,” Conover added, “because they’re really dedicated to what they do.”

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