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Clayton students' 'voices' heard at annual competition

Roberta T. Smith Elementary School second-grader, Jayme Fielder, looked like a one-person United Nations by the time she finished talking about the different nationalities in her family tree, during a competition at the Clayton County Public Schools Performing Arts Center on Thursday.

Fielder took the stage in a Chinese Mandarin Jacket to represent her Chinese heritage. Then, she added a red, top hat, with the Canadian flag on it, to represent her family's roots in Canada. Then, she pulled out a German chocolate bar to symbolize her German roots. Finally, she picked up an American flag to represent the country in which she lives.

At the conclusion of Fielder's speech, she said the point in having all of those different nationalities represented was to show that a person's entire ethnic background cannot be assumed based on how they look.

"The next time you look at someone, and you don't know something about them — Ask! You might learn something," Fielder said.

She was one of more than 20 contestants in Clayton County Public Schools' "Hear Our Voices" speech competition Thursday. The event is one part of the school system's 19th Annual "Hear Our Voices" writing and speaking competition.

School System Coordinator of Secondary Language Arts Shonda Shaw said the competition is broken into five categories, including the speech portion performed on Thursday, and four written categories. The written categories are poetry, essays, short stories, and narratives, she said.

She said there were approximately 170 participants in the competition this year, including 144 writing entrants.

"It's a writing and speaking competition that is also an opportunity for the students' voices to be heard," Shaw said. "They have a school competition, and then, the winners from each school advance to the county competition ... It's really open to whatever the students wants it to be about, but most of the speeches focus on the students' cultural heritages."

Lovejoy High School junior, Davis Nguyen, talked about his family's move from Vietnam to Atlanta 19 years ago, and how he's grown up to be on the verge of becoming the first person in his family to graduate from an American high school. "When I look back at all the hard work my parents had to do, when we moved to America, I see the sacrifices that made it possible for me to get an education," he said.

Some of the participants talked, not only about their cultural heritage, however. B.C. Haynie Elementary School kindergartner, Yuliana Pacheco, for example, mentioned that her family's roots go back to Mexico, but she mainly talked about things her family likes to do and the strong bond that holds it together. "I love my family, because they are beautiful, and we love each other very much," Pacheco said.

Shaw also said the competition's winners will be announced sometime next week, after judges finish evaluating the entries in the written categories. There is a winner for each grade level, in each category, according to Shaw.

She said the winners from all of the categories will be invited to a "Hear Our Voices" dinner, in their honor, later in the spring, and speech winners will be invited to have their speeches recorded for broadcast on the district's cable channel.