Education Matters: Scholarships rolling in for students across metro-east

Sheriff John D. Lakin and scholarship winner Haley Michel, of Civic Memorial High School in Bethalto.
Sheriff John D. Lakin and scholarship winner Haley Michel, of Civic Memorial High School in Bethalto.

A Belleville West junior and two seniors placed at the National Speech and Debate Association national tournament, which was held June 15-19 in Dallas.

Senior Bethany Dain placed second in the nation, earning a $500 college scholarship, for her extemporaneous speaking. In the final round, contestants spoke on “Remembering those we have lost”, said debate coach Adam Jenkins. He said she was at a disadvantage because each name could be picked only once, and Bethany went last in the round, choosing from names no one else had wanted.

She chose Mario Cuomo, Jenkins said, and shared with the judges that she didn’t know much about the former governor of New York. Debate students gather information from news articles to store on their laptops for the debates, but she had little on Cuomo to prep with.

Jenkins said Bethany told the judges that there hadn’t been anything in the news that drew her attention to Cuomo, and said, “Let’s talk about political apathy, obviously this man is important enough to know about,” but instead students were prepared with famous people like Leonard Nimoy but not Cuomo.

Jenkins said it was a risky move for the senior.

“The strategy worked for her. Typically admitting in front of judges that you don’t know anything about the topic will result in lost points,” he said.

Junior Donnie Bland placed fifth in expository speaking, which is a five-minute speech that introduces the audience to a topic. Jenkins said Donnie’s speech was “The Buzz About Wasps,” and Donnie had selected and researched that topic to do that speech in every round of competition. “We view wasps as a nuisance,” Jenkins said, “but he talked about all the ways wasp ... help in nature and how venom is used in some cancer treatments.”

Senior Tyler Herron and junior Sam Geiger placed 25th in duo interpretation, the highest in school history in that event. Duo interpretation is a 10-minute presentation that can be dramatic, comedic or a mix. Tyler and Sam worked from a published script titled “Front Porch Chronicles,” which Jenkins said is about an “unlikely friendship between a lonely old man who sits on his porch and a young boy who moves in next door, and goes through their lives as the boy moves to college.”

Dain and Bland are the 12th and 13th national speech finalists in school history; all but one has been in the last 10 years under English teachers and coaches Jenkins and Russ Reidelberger.


The Illinois Fatherhood Initiative picked three student essays from Cathedral Grade School as grade winners in its annual IFI Chicago White Sox Fatherhood Essay Contest. Kindergartners Cayden McNease and Grace Munie both wrote about their grandpas; as did seventh grader Celia Toenjes.

“Your essay has been selected as one of the 12 best in your grade,” read the announcement letter. “... Being recognized at this level reflects an exceptional ability to communicate clearly.”

The IFI accepted essays about any father figure, including grandfathers and uncles.

Cayden wrote, “I love my grandpa. He takes me to the park a lot. We have fun. He plays Nerf guns with me. He hugs me a lot.”

Grace wrote, “I love my grandpa because he is nice to me. I like it when he gives me hugs. In the summer my whole family goes with him to the Ozarks. I like when we go on the boat. It is fun.

Celia wrote a full typed page to share her Grandpa Bill’s silliness, including his threats to put pickles on her pizza. “I hope one day I can repay him for all he has done for me and my family. I will always love him more.”


Turkey Hill Grange presented three scholarships to graduating seniors this spring. Mackenzie Escher and Corinne Weber, both of of Freeburg High School, and Taylor Miller Sims of Governor French Academy each won $1,000 scholarships. Burt Wikgren, the Grange’s scholarship chairman, presented the awards at the May 8 meeting.


Students from eight schools were honored by the Westside Optimist Club of Belleville. Students were tapped by school faculty based on improvement in any area, including conduct and citizenship or academics. The students were: Jacob Combs, Emge School; Kylie Rehg, High Mount School; Camryn Collins-Vaugn, West Junior High School; Caleb Mertens, Our Lady Queen of Peace; Themas Hepfer, Blessed Sacrament; Sydnie Smith, Signal Hill School; Kara Kettler, St. Mary St. Augustine; and Korrie Allen, Wolf Branch Middle School.


Several area students won $50 Kohl’s gift cards from the department store as part of the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program. A St. Louis girl was a national winner with a $10,000 scholarship in June from the store. Local winners were Victoria Bertucci and Xander Van Horn, both of Belleville; Nickie Cashdollar, of Glen Carbon; Hanna Liljegren, of Collinsville and Xander Van Horn, 12, Belleville.

The Kohl’s Cares program accepts nominations from students ages 6 to 18. Winners are picked based on benefits and outcomes of their volunteer service. Local winners recieve the gift card, regional winners take a $1,000 scholarship for higher education, and national winners receive a $10,000 scholarship.


Three local teachers are among more than 30 statewide who were recognized for being the best in their fields of expertise this past school year. Local teachers honored for the Exemplary efforts were: Carol Harms of Belleville East High School; Matt Herndon, of Wood River High School, and Jeff Hudon, of Alton High School.

“We are happy to have the chance to recognize teachers of this caliber, who are strong leaders committed to helping students succeed,” said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith. “The passion, enthusiasm and dedication for teaching these educators demonstrate daily is felt by students, colleagues, administrators, and parents alike. They go the extra mile every day to ensure students are learning, and we are pleased to publicly thank them for their tireless efforts.”

The Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and the Illinois Education Association (IEA) recognized the educators during a lunch on June 18 at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.


Haley Michel, of Civic Memorial High School in Bethalto, earned the $500 Illinois Sheriff’s Association scholarship through Madison County.

Haley, of Cottage Hills, plans to attend Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and will major in nursing. She is also an Illinsoi State Scholar and was a member of the National Honor Society.

The Illinois Sheriff’s association annually awards at least one $500 scholarship to a student in each of the 102 counties.