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Third-grader's story earns state prize

by Caitlan Butler | June 1, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.
An illustration from third-grader Jai Durvasula's story "Help Your Friends But..." is pictured. Jai's story won third-place among his grade level in the 2023 Arkansas PBS KIDS Writer's Contest. (Courtesy of Rama Durvasula/Special to the News-Times)

Helping one's friends is usually the right course of action, but, as Hugh Goodwin third-grader Jai Durvasula learned earlier this year, it isn't always.

Jai, 8, explored the pitfalls of unquestioning allegiance in his story, "Help Your Friends But...," which was the third-place winner among third-graders in the 2023 Arkansas PBS KIDS Writer's Contest.

"The story actually was based on a real incident that happened in the school," Jai's mother, Rama Durvasula, said. "It was about how he was trying to help a friend, but he got in trouble... It was a teaching moment from him."

In the story, a bully pushes one of Jai's friends down, and Jai responds in kind. He initially justifies his retaliation and he, his friend and the bully are made to maintain the school garden as punishment. That night at home, after a long chat with his parents, Jai realizes that no one wins in a fight.

Jai's mother said she attributes much of Jai's win to his teachers at Hugh Goodwin, noting that literacy facilitator Kathy Clayton's motto "Readers are leaders" struck a chord at the Durvasula home.

"I'm so thankful to the school, to his teachers," she said.

Karen Walker, Arkansas PBS community education manager, said the writer's contest is meant to help children improve their literacy with a hands-on activity.

"The Arkansas PBS KIDS Writers Contest is designed to promote the advancement of children's literacy skills through hands-on, active learning. The contest empowers children to celebrate creativity and build literacy skills by writing and illustrating their own stories," she said in an email.

Jesica Collins, Hugh Goodwin principal, said students had the option of whether to participate in the contest.

"Creative writing encourages kids to exercise their creative minds and practices using their imaginations. Children gain valuable practice, as well as confidence in their writing skills," she said in an email about the contest.

Clayton, the literacy facilitator, said she was proud to read Jai's story about the lesson he learned.

"Jai was able to take a realistic event and turn it into a lesson through his words. When other students read his story, they will be able to relate and hopefully learn the lesson that fighting is never the answer," she said.

The Arkansas PBS KIDS Writer's Contest is an annual competition for Kindergarteners through third-graders, who submit original stories and illustrations, which are judged on originality, creative expression, storytelling and integration of text and illustrations, according to the outlet.

The most recent writing contest winners, outside of Jai, from El Dorado were selected in 2018. Then-second-grader Josiah Williams won first-place that year for his story "I Wish (A Snail's Tale) and then-first-grader Sydney Rogers won second-place for her story "Cilia Sees Again."

Rama Durvasula said she hopes seeing Jai's story win a prize can help inspire other students to read and write.

"Mrs. Clayton believes that if you can read, you can do anything," Collins noted. "I think Mrs. Clayton sums it up when she tells them if you can read, you can do anything."

The Arkansas PBS KIDS Writer's Contest is held annually at the start of each year. For more information, visit myarkansaspbs.org.

Print Headline: Third-grader's story earns state prize


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