By Allen Payton
These days it seems as if most of the news coming out of schools is bad. Hardly a day goes by without another report of some tragedy: a bullying incident, a shooting, a teacher acting inappropriately or test scores below state or federal standards. There is one local school, however, where the news is very good. Paideia Academy, a small, Christian school, located in the annex of King’s Chapel in Antioch, has become one of the top schools in the country when it comes to winning nationally recognized essay and speech competitions. What is even more remarkable, is the fact that they have had such tremendous success with such a small student body…less than 30 students.
Last year Vanessa Urbina, a seventh grader, was the California state champion in the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Patriot’s Pen competition, winning over $2,000 for her efforts. She was the third state champion the school has produced since its inception a half dozen years ago.
Each year students at Paideia Academy participate in at least three essay or speech competitions. In addition to the Patriot’s Pen, they also enter the VFW Voice of Democracy, the Fleet Reserve Association Patriotic Essay Contest, and the American Legion Oratorical Competition.
John Crowder, the administrator and lead teacher at the school, was asked about his formula for success.
“Being able to write and speak well is vital to a successful career, in college and beyond,” he stated. “With that in mind, our students begin writing extensively in third grade. Even at that young age we expect them to be able to produce well-written paragraphs, to develop a logical thesis, and to convey that to others using the written word. By the time they reach high school, and take our Research and Writing class, they will have already written many, many essays, all of which will have been revised and corrected.”
Crowder went on to say that he believes that almost anyone can learn to write well.
“Like any valuable skill, it takes work. The students here work hard, and are given feedback on all their writing, over time developing an exceptional degree of expertise.” When asked about the patriotism theme, Crowder commented, “I wanted our students to understand how fortunate they are to live in the United States and under our Constitution. The patriotic organizations that sponsor these contests, VFW, FRA and American Legion, were a great fit for us.”
Vanessa talked about her writing class.
“At first it was really hard,” she said, “especially when I would get a paper back that was marked up with so much red ink. Before I came to Paideia, that hadn’t happened, and I thought my writing was pretty good. Mr. Crowder is much more strict, but it’s really helped me develop into a much better writer.”
Another student, Haley Robles, who entered an international contest, sponsored by the Scottish Reformation Society, and won first place, agreed with that assessment.
“The thing about this class that really helps is that we get feedback on every essay we write, and have to correct them,” Haley said. “I was just thinking yesterday, as I was writing yet another essay, how much more concise my writing is, now.”
A third student, Alec Scher, a winner in the American Legion Oratorical Competition, has already put his skills into practice, participating as an intern in the California State Assembly, last summer.
“Paideia Academy has been great for me,” Alec said. “Last summer I was able to help the Assemblyman draft all kinds of documents. I don’t think this experience would have been possible without learning how to write well.”
The students at Paideia Academy are currently putting the final touches on the Patriot’s Pen and Voice of Democracy essays they have written for the current year. If past performance is any indication, they can once again, expect an abundance of scholarship money pouring into the coffers of these impressive, diligent, Antioch students.
To learn more about Paideia Academy, and their writing program, visit their website www.paideiacademy.com or call the school at (925) 628-4033.