When a team of Squadron Line sixth graders won the Kids' Lit Quiz, an annual literature competition for children ages 10-13, they became the first U.S. champion and the first U.S. team to compete in the world finals competition in New Zealand. How to get to New Zealand—a full day’s air travel away—was the challenge, given the high cost of air fare. Although most expenses would be paid by the organizers of the competition, air fare was not included—and prohibitively expensive.
Thanks to a remarkable outpouring of donations from the Simsbury community, the four members of the team, Andrew Donshik, Eva Kaplinski, Elyse Kassa, and Julie Sojkowski; and the team’s chaperones will board the plane to New Zealand on July 1. The students will compete against teams from around the world, including New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa.
To thank the donors and wish the team “bon voyage,” Squadron Line School held a “Reading Celebration” on June 13th, to which several sponsors attended and were thanked individually by the students. The presentation included a recap of the original competition and a preview of some of the activities the students would be enjoying in Auckland, New Zealand, including a traditional “maori” welcome; dinner at the home of the founder of the competition, Professor Wayne Mills; and visits to a volcanic island and to Hobbiton, where Lord of the Rings was filmed.
Squadron Line School principal Kerry Jones welcomed the crowd, which included Dr. Catherine Kurkjian, a Reading professor at Central Connecticut State University and U.S. Coordinator of Kids’ Lit Quiz.
Jones observed that the Reading Celebration was a lot like a pep rally for a sports competition, and it was about time that reading generated this kind of excitement, too. All of the students who participated in the original competition were recognized and applauded for their efforts. Jones and the winning team then accepted a check from Colleen Depratti, a representative from Ensign-Bickford, which donated $5,000 to the team.
Other corporate sponsors were: Cybex, WebsterBank, Salter’s Express Bus Company, Simsmore Tennis, LLC, Dr. Peter Donshik, Rollcage Technology, Paine’s, Hoffman, Chubb, Hartford Health Care, Dunkin Donuts, Essex Savings Bank, People’s United Bank, Symphony Corporation, Simsbury Bank, Simsbury Pediatric & Adolescent Dentistry, and Educational Playcare.
Individual sponsors were: Mr. & Mrs. David M. Agar; Mr. & Mrs. Iphigenia Andreas; Ms. Elise Andreas; Mr. & Mrs. Steven Antonio; Ms. Janice B. Bell; Mr. & Mrs. Steven Buchanan; Ms. Susan M. Bullock; Mr. John Crand, III; Dr. & Mrs. Peter Donshik; Mr. & Mrs. Richard Havighorst; Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Kaplinski; Ms. Mary Lou Kaplinski; Mr. & Mrs. James Kaplinski; Ms. Suzy Kline; Mr. Uwe Koepke & Ms. Ann Mauks-Koepke; Mr. & Mrs. Thomas McGee; Mr. & Mrs. George Ponzoni & Mr. Kenneth Buchanan; Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Shiman, III; Ms. Eileen Sickinger; Mrs. Henry Sojkowski; Squadron Line PTO; Valley Masonic Lodge #36; Lina, Rick, & Carole Wagner; Mr. & Mrs. Scott Wakeman; and Mr. & Mrs. David Woltmann. On the morning of the celebration, pledges were still being accepted and tallied, including a pledge from long-time education supporter and former Board of Education chair Jack Sennott.
At the end of the celebration, a “mini-competition” was conducted, with the audience divided into groups of four to participate. Some tough questions were posed, and there were more than a few facial contortions of deep concentration and shrieks of triumph as students struggled to come up with the answers.
When Grade 2 teacher Maureen Billings spoke to the crowd of students and sponsors, she described how the team has to work collaboratively to come up with the answers rather than as individuals. The way they have conducted themselves despite all the media attention and excitement has been exemplary. She said, “They have been fantastic ambassadors not just for our school but for the United States.”
With the actual competition taking place on July 4th in New Zealand, there is no better time to be an American representing Squadron Line School, Simsbury, Connecticut, and the U.S.
There are several ways to follow the team’s progress: go to www.kidslitquiz.us, “like” us on facebook KidsLitQuizUS, or follow us on twitter @KidsLitQuizUS.