AUSTIN — The winning seventh-grade entry in the 2011 Save Texas History Texas Travels Essay Contest proves you don't need to be born in Texas to love its history.
Elena Ivanova, 12, took top honors with her vivid retelling of how 18 Texians stood down an army of 100 Mexican soldiers at the Battle of Gonzales in 1835. Elena - a hard-working student with a passion for reading and writing - was born in the Republic of Moldova and holds both Canadian and Moldovan citizenship. Elena's interest in history turned toward Texas as Michelle Tippins' student at Cedar Park Middle School.
"She had a good teacher," said her father, Evghenii Ivanov.
Ivanova's winning essay earns her four Southwest Airlines round-trip tickets to San Antonio from any destination in Texas, hotel accommodations for two nights and tickets for additional attractions provided by the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said Ivanova's essay was evocative of the "Come and Take It" spirit of Gonzales, the battle that kicked off the Texas Revolution. "Elena captured the sights and sounds and even the emotions of the 'Old Eighteen‘ as they stood on the river bank and put their lives on the line in defense of Texas," Patterson said. "Texas history is exciting and heroic, and Elena's essay brings it alive."
Patterson announced the top winners for the statewide essay contest today. Madeleine Smith, a nine-year-old from The Woodlands' John Cooper School, won the fourth-grade division of the contest with her essay about Alonso Pineda, the first European to see Texas and map the Gulf Coast.
Twenty finalists also won Save Texas History backpacks, a Certificate of Appreciation signed by Commissioner Patterson and a historical map replica from the Land Office Archives Collection.
The Texas Travels Essay Contest is sponsored by the General Land Office Save Texas History program and Southwest Airlines. The contest fulfills the educational mission of the Save Texas History program to promote the study of Texas history and to serve as a teaching resource.
Seventh-graders were asked to write the story of their favorite Texas city, big or small.
Students described the historical significance of the place they chose and gave reasons why it was important to the development of Texas. Fourth-graders were asked to write from the perspective of a well-known explorer.
While all Texas fourth- and seventh-grade students study Texas history, Patterson hopes that asking students to write about the history of places close to their hearts will bring the stories to life. All public, private and home-schooled students of appropriate age for the fourth grade or seventh grade were eligible to participate. Essays for the annual contest were judged on originality of idea, cohesiveness of thought and organization. Proper grammar, spelling and punctuation counted.
The Texas General Land Office Save Texas HistoryTM program is a statewide initiative to rally public support and private funding for the preservation and promotion of more than 35 million historic maps and documents. With the twin goals of preservation and education, the Save Texas History program seeks to conserve these documents for future generations and educate Texans about the rich heritage found in these vital records. For more details, visit www.SaveTexasHistory.org.