SPARTA, NJ – A Sparta High School student recently named First Place National Essay Winner for an essay he submitted to the Society of Professional Journalists.  Freshman Simon Levien submitted the essay without any of his teachers knowing. In addition to the recognition, he earned a $1,000 scholarship.

The topic of the essay was “Why is it important that we have news media that are independent of the government?”

The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Journalism Education Association sponsored the contest as part of their efforts to “increase high school students’ knowledge and understanding of the importance of independent media,” according to the organization’s website.

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Rules for the contest were simple; submit an essay of 300-500 words, written in English. There was a $5 entry fee. It was open to high school students grades 9 through 12.

Scoring was based on several categories:

  • Material Organization logical interpretation of the subject, 40 points
  • Vocabulary and Style - 30 points
  • Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling – 20 points
  • Neatness – 5 points
  • Adherence to contest rules – 5 points

Discussions about finances and earning money for college spurred Levien to search for essay contests, according to his mother, Anna Geronimo.  “It comes easy for him to work an essay,” she said.  “He spent a total of five hours on this essay.”

Mary Hassenplug, English supervisor said, "Simon's essay demonstrates his thoughtful exploration of a complex issue. Using the novel Animal Farm, which he had studied in eighth grade with his teacher Laura Sofen, Simon showed his understanding of the relevance of universal themes to life today. We are very proud of Simon's work and look forward to seeing him continue to develop as a writer and scholar."

Geronimo said, “Both his dad and I are very proud of him.”