For Wantagh Middle School sixth-grader Emily Dressler, it’s always good to take chances, because you never know how far that might take you.
In February, Emily, 11, took part in a fifth-grade essay contest, writing about the significance of the American flag. The Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization dedicated to historical preservation and education, organized the event. Her essay, “What the Flag Means to Me,” was selected as the winner by the group’s Wantagh chapter, and this month, it was awarded an honorable mention in the organization’s state competition for 2023.
The win took Emily by surprise.
“When I heard that I had won the whole thing, I was in complete shock,” she said.
Her fifth-grade social studies teacher at Mandalay Elementary School, Bridget Montario, encouraged her students to enter the competition, Emily recalled. Montario said that the contest would be an interesting activity for the students, because it gave them an opportunity to connect with the flag and work on their writing skills.
A day after the contest was announced, Emily had strep throat and stayed home from school. Most students might understandably avoid schoolwork on a sick day, but she spent part of the time writing the essay on the flag. She finished it in two hours.
“I just did it,” she said simply. “It doesn’t hurt to try.”
When passion is involved, she explained, her writing shows it, and the flag was a favorite subject of hers. According to Montario, Emily had shown interest in the flag’s history in class, and even dressed as Betsy Ross, who was credited with making the first American flag, for a “living wax museum” event, in which students dress as historical figures.
“I was proud that she had the courage to express what the flag meant to her, and to take the risk and the challenge of writing this essay,” Montario said of her student.
In her essay, Emily explained what the colors of the flag meant to her. White meant honesty, which reminded her of what teachers said throughout her education.
“Honesty is the best policy, so just be honest,” she said, recalling her teachers’ words. “Being honest is always better than lying.”
Red made Emily think of bravery, and having the courage to try.
“You don’t have to be the bravest, but always try to be brave,” she said. “Just do your best.”
Finally, blue made her think of freedom and being your own person, and in her essay, Emily wrote about her uncles, who served in the military, as well as other people who enlisted.
“They were brave enough to go and fight for their country, and to get their freedom,” she said of her uncles, and the military.
Julie Rosslee, the Wantagh school district’s director of humanities, who also read Emily’s essay, said the district was proud of her.
“Emily’s essay was written from the heart,” Rosslee said, “and I think that’s what makes all the difference when students are very thoughtful with what they write that’s near and dear to them, as Emily’s was. She did a great job.”
As a winner of her local chapter, Dressler’s essay was submitted to the Daughters of the Revolution’s state competition. On Sept. 6, she was notified that she had been awarded an honorable mention.
“When a student is recognized by the state, it’s an amazing accomplishment, and that’s exactly what Emily did,” Rosslee said. “Getting honorable mention is a huge deal, because it’s not often that we have a student who qualifies at the state level to get something like that.”
Emily said felt proud about her experience, and encouraged other students to take a chance and take part in the organization’s essay contests in the future.
Montario said that the event presents students with a great opportunity to grow.
“I would like them to continue to practice their writing skills and take risks to enter these contests,” she said, “because you never know where it could take you.”