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Fifth Grader’s Very Personal Essay A Winner

August 19, 2011 by John Rook

From the time we are children, most of us hear a common refrain from adults: “You can change the world.”
Whether it be in the classroom or at a graduation ceremony, the younger generation is routinely told that life offers the unique opportunity to make a lasting difference.
Hearing it is one thing. Believing it is another.
Although she is only in the fifth grade, Highland School student Kaylie Behuniak can be counted among the believers. Behuniak has already gone through trials in her young life, and conquered them, and she believes that her experiences can help others meet and triumph over their own challenges.
It’s why she wanted to compete in the CHET Dream Big! drawing and essay contest earlier this year. It’s why, in the end, her piece was good enough to earn her Merit Winner status.
“It was great,” recalled Behuniak. “I was on vacation when they said who had won. I found out when I got a phone call while we were driving back. I was so happy.”
Cheshire_Kaylie Behuniak with WFSB Tina Martin_0.jpgBehuniak found out about the competition in the winter of this year, when her sister, Alyssa, told her about a drawing and essay contest for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. As Behuniak was in the fifth grade, she was required to write an essay if she wanted to enter, as submitting a drawing was an option only available to students at lower levels.
The topic was one that immediately attracted the attention of Behuniak: essay submissions would have to discuss how a student planned to change the world once they graduated from college.
“I thought it was a perfect topic,” said Behuniak. “I knew I could help change the world.”
But, Behuniak wasn’t thinking in grand, abstract terms when she talked about helping to “change the world.” She was talking about something very specific and very personal.
In the fall of 2010, Behuniak struggled to deal with anxiety. It was a difficult obstacle to overcome, something she spoke about in her essay.
“I know a lot about anxiety because I am an anxious person,” Behuniak wrote in her essay. “I became so anxious at the age of 11 that it was difficult for me to go to school. I had to go to the hospital.”
Later in the essay, Behuniak mentioned how there are different types of anxiety from which children suffer, such as anxiety about sickness, taking tests, or leaving one’s parents. For her, the anxiety stemmed from a fear of sickness.
“If kids are afraid of getting sick, that affects their learning in school and distracts them from their school work,” she said in the essay.
Behuniak was ultimately able to handle her anxiety and continue on in school, but she felt that sharing her experience might help others suffering from similar problems.
“I knew I could help people by talking to them about what happened to me,” said Behuniak.
So, over a period of a few weeks, the fifth grader began the process of putting her thoughts down on paper. She admitted that “it wasn’t as simple as it looked” when she first started thinking about it but, after a while, “I thought I had it.”
She submitted the letter to the State of Connecticut Treasurer’s Office, which sponsored the event, and then waited for a reply. When it finally came, Behuniak was overjoyed.
Of the more than 2,000 entries for the contest, only 129 drawings and essays were chosen as winners. Of the 129, Behuniak was one of 43 Merit winners.
In May, the state held an awards ceremony for the winners and their families at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. For her part, Behuniak invited her father and her fifth grade teacher to attend with her.
“(My teacher) was really excited I invited her,” Behuniak remembered, with a laugh.
During the event, the winning students were called up on stage to receive their awards, which included a $50 CHET direct-sold account.
“I was pretty nervous as I was waiting,” she said.
It was an exciting night for the youngster, and one that made her think about her friend, Lauren, who had helped her when she was dealing with her anxiety.
“I tried to hide it from her,” said Behuniak, “but she really helped me. She is my best friend.”

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