Middle Grades (6-8) Winning essays 2016

First Place (tie)

Georgia Burrichter, gr. 8, Albert Hill MS, Richmond Public Schools

Peace Essay

Plants and animals have always worked together survive and keep peace among their community. They provide us flawed humans an insight on how to work together in harmony. There are examples of cooperation in the animal and plant kingdom everywhere. However, one relationship particularly fascinates me. This is the mutually beneficial partnership between oxpeckers and zebras. A key lesson can be taken away from this relationship and applying these animals’ cooperation to today’s issues is the way to bring peace.

To begin, oxpeckers, a species of bird, and zebras are two animals that live in the African Sahara. These animals have a mutual relationship, which means they both profit from their association. The oxpecker eats parasites and insects off of the zebra that are harmful. The two creatures both benefit because the zebra gets pest control and the oxpecker gets food.

There is so much we can learn from the cooperation between these two animals. One lesson the relationship can teach is that no matter how different you are, you can still work together. Oxpeckers are small, flying animals. While zebras, are large, four-legged animals. Though they greatly differ, they are still are able to work together. This cooperation they have is what keeps them alive and it is what humans must have to keep peace in the world.

The lesson we can learn is very relevant to today’s issues and conflicts. For example, climate change is at a critical point today. One way to slow down the rapid change to our Earth is planting more trees and stopping the cutting down of the trees. However, lumber companies themselves still need to harvest trees and provide for the demand for wood products. Environmentalists who want lumber companies to stop hurting the environment and lumber companies themselves came to an agreement. After lumber companies cut down forests, they would replant the trees, and then move on to a different forest. Years later the companies would go back to the forests they planted and cut down those trees. This cycle continues and provides a sustainable supply of trees while keeping the number of trees at a safe number. By the companies and environmentalists working together, they both win and there is tranquility.

In closing, peacemaking and partnerships can be best seen in oxpeckers and zebras. These animals are very different but can still work together. This lesson is crucial for peacemaking in our world. An example of this principle being used in today’s issues can be seen in the cooperation between environmentalists and lumber companies. Peacemaking is not something that will come with ease. However, with patience, cooperation, and thoughtfulness it can be achieved.


First Place (tie)

Richmond Peace Essay: Peace in Nature

by Maggie McKenna, gr. 8, Moody MS, Henrico VA

In the natural world that surrounds us, there are over 8 million species of plants and animals that live in harmony. Just in my backyard, I can see squirrels, chipmunks, insects, birds, and a variety of plants in colors ranging from purple to fluorescent green. Everywhere around us, there is so much diversity and beauty. In a world often torn apart by our differences, we should look to nature to learn how to be peaceful and cooperative. The plants and animals that, despite their differences, work together are a lesson to all of us, in our homes, communities, and world.

My brother is two years younger than me. We are both extremely stubborn, so we fight a lot – even over things as trivial as which show we’re going to watch on T.V. Of course, deep down, we do love each other a lot, but often amidst the fighting we forget that we’re on the same team. One species that I could learn a lesson from is the meerkat. They live together in groups of up to fifty in close, tight knit packs. What’s fascinating, in my opinion, about their behavior is that when one senses danger, he alerts everyone else. Instead of simply running and saving himself, a meerkat risks his life to save his family and friends. They work together, with one standing guard and several collecting food, to ensure that they stay safe. This wonderful cooperation and peace is something every family should mirror. The next time I feel like yelling at my brother, I should remember that we’re on the same team. Just like the meerkat, we’re part of a family, and we should protect – not fight – our fellow family members. We should love them, care for them, and help them – because that’s what family is.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Finding Nemo, about a clownfish family that is separated. If you’ve seen it, you probably know the scene where Nemo attempts and fails to pronounce the name of his home – a sea anemone. What you might not know is the level of symbiosis between the sea anemone and the clownfish. It’s a mutualistic relationship, or one where both species benefit from the relationship. The sea anemone provides a safe home to live in, and the clownfish in turn helps keep the sea anemone clean and protects it from predators. Both of them realize that they are on the same team; they just want to survive. In my community, I feel very safe. Everyone watches out for everyone. We let each other know when someone left their garage door open and send someone a text if their car light is on. I live around kind, generous people who care a lot for their neighbors. In that way, I feel that we are like the clownfish and the sea anemone. We protect each other. We make each other feel safe. Communities are supposed to be like that. In order to create peace, we have to have empathy for our neighbors. At the end of the day, aren’t we all the same? We just want to be happy. By helping each other – and often getting helped in return – we are creating a happier, safer community, just like the clownfish and the sea anemone.

Diversity is a beautiful thing. The fact that we live in a world where everyone is unique is wonderful. Yet, our differences scare us. Instead of working with those unlike us, we fight them. This world needs more peace. One relationship I am inspired by is that between the Egyptian Plover bird and the Nile crocodile. They seem like they would be natural enemies – they’re about as different as you can get in the animal world. Yet, they are able to put aside their differences for another mutualistic relationship. The Plover bird cleans out the crocodile’s teeth and flies away unharmed. The crocodile gets a teeth cleaning and the bird gets a meal. Even though they are complete opposites on the food chain, they team up to solve this problem, and both species prosper. This is how peace works. It isn’t conditional, but rather looks past differences. We should help and be generous to everyone, regardless of race, religion, or beliefs. Even if we are complete opposites, like the Plover bird and Nile crocodile, we can still work together.

The natural world holds so many different species and so much diversity. Looking at the way that animals make peace among themselves reminds us that we are all a part of the same world. Everyone is interconnected, no matter how different we seem. In our homes, communities, and world, we can look to the cooperation and peace between animals to remind us that we are all human. Isn’t that beautiful?


3rd place

Peace Essay

by Elijah Woodward, gr. 6, Lucille Brown MS, Richmond Public Schools

Nature is full of systems and relationships between plants, animals and even insects that depend on each other. As humans we do not usually notice these connections, but they are always happening around us. There is a lot that we can learn from observing how these relationships benefit the plants, animals and insects involved and how we can benefit from better cooperation.

Bees and flowers are like “partners in crime,” they both benefit from their relationship with each other. Flowers benefit from bees because the bees move pollen from flower to flower as they fly around. The pollen that the bees pass around helps the flowers to reproduce and to grow. Bees benefit from the nectar on flowers, which is made from pollen, by taking it back to their hives. The bees use the nectar in the making of honey. As humans, we also benefit from this relationship, because we also eat the honey that the bees make.

The lessons we can learn from the relationship between bees and flowers can be applied in many different places: in our homes, in our communities and throughout the world. One example in our homes could be an older sibling helping a younger sibling with their homework in exchange for help with cleaning their room. The parents would benefit from this relationship also because the cooperation between the kids would free the parents’ time to do other things like prepare dinner. Another example in our homes can be an older child, like a teenager, mowing the lawn for his parents in exchange for allowance money. They both benefit from this relationship. Not only do the parents not have to mow the lawn, and it keeps the yard looking nice and neat, but the child also has money to spend or save.

A relationship we already have in our communities is between the local farmers and the restaurant owners. The farmers sell their foods and crops to restaurant owners. In exchange for the foods the restaurant owners give the money to the farmers to be able to grow more food. The restaurant owners take the food and make the meals that they feed to their customers. The customers also benefit by eating fresh foods instead of frozen or pre-packaged food.

An example within in our world could be a case where one country can make an agreement with another country that is not as wealthy and give them money in exchange for a resource that they may need, like natural gas. If the poorer country is on natural gas then they can let the other country dig for it in exchange for the money. The money will make the country more economically stable. More stability for a country usually helps to promote stability within its entire region.

There are many different places and ways that we can work together, and keep peace. I know that humans are capable of learning these strategies from nature and use them in our everyday lives. My mother often says, “What you do doesn’t just affect you, it affects other people too.” We can always look to nature for examples of how this saying is at work all the time.


Honorable Mentions:

Peace Essay

by Theresa Carpinelli, gr. 7, St. Edward-Epiphany School, Richmond

As I’m sure you have seen, the relationships between animals in the wild are incredible. Yet, we humans do not take the hint from the animals and pursue those traits in our daily life. If you look at what is in the news today, so many people live a non- peaceful existence. If more humans would cooperate with each other, we would live in a much more joyful and peaceful world.

Studies suggest that most dogs have been separate from wolves for at least 100,000 years. This shows we have lived with dogs for as long as we have existed. Dogs and humans are the perfect example of a peace-filled relationship. The dog supplies protection and companionship and the human provides food and shelter. If we just applied this same peace to our relations with others, our life and the lives of people around us would be much calmer and easier.

Another example of animals living together in the wild is the goby fish and the shrimp. The goby fish live in parts of the reefs in Europe and Asia, along with it’s partner, the shrimp. The two live side by side and help each other in many ways. First, the shrimp digs a burrow into the sand and both organisms live there. In return for the kindness of the shrimp, the goby fish will touch the shrimp when predators approach. This helps the shrimp because he is almost blind and cannot see the predator for himself. These animals help one another out of their own will. We need to take the hint from these deep-sea creatures and live this way with others.

Nature has many examples of peaceful and happy relations, the two that have already been given, and more. Another example of peace in nature is the zebra and the oxpecker. These two African animals have an important and special relationship. Oxpeckers land on the zebras and eat ticks and other parasites that live on their skin. The oxpeckers get food and the zebras get pest control. The birds also fly high when predators are approaching and warn the zebra if the are in danger.

As my case states, animals are the best example of how to live peacefully with one another. Throughout our lives we are taught how to “work well with one another” and put in groups to do projects. Yet, we are never taught or even shown how well animals, plants, and other organisms live together every day. What can you take away from the animals living happily together and how can you apply that to your life?


Peace Essay

by Udbhav Muthakana, gr. 7, Stone Hill MS, Loudoun Co. VA

Some animals and plants are more cooperative and peaceful than humans. Nature is filled with examples of cooperation to achieve a common goal. Many symbiotic relationships between plants and animals exist in the natural world. In nature we often see peace, protection, cooperation, care, and consideration. Humans can learn a lot from these symbiotic relationships.

Coyotes and badgers are not the animals one would normally associate with a cooperative relationship. Yet they have a working relationship when they hunt for prey. Coyotes can run down almost any animals, but they cannot catch prey that escapes into a burrow. Badgers can dig prey out of burrows, but they cannot run them down. Thus they team up for their hunting trips to catch their common, prey, such as prairie dogs and squirrels. According to Ecology Online, although coyotes occasionally eat badgers, the majority of their relationship is cooperative. The badger digs the prey out, and the coyote runs it down.

What can we learn from this? We can learn the importance of collaborative partnership. We should make use of the lessons we can learn from this relationship to reduce the amount of violence we have in the world today. For example, the prey can be likened to a terrorist group like ISIS. The badger and coyote are world powers that are trying to catch the terrorists. The burrow is like the terrorist cell. Terrorist cells are groups of terrorists that band together to conceal their identity. Once the terrorists escape into cells, the world powers cannot catch them alone. They have to work together to ferret out the terrorists and then catch them.

Similarly, two sea animals have a close relationship that benefits them both. Pistol shrimp and goby fish are almost polar opposites. The pistol shrimp gets its name from its ability to snap its claws fast enough to create a jet of water that can stun prey or ward off predators. However, it has bad eyesight. The goby fish is very weak and can only escape from predators by hiding. The goby fish has very good eyesight. Examples of the fish teaming up have been observed in nature. A biologist named Ilan Karplus and some of his colleagues studied the pair and their symbiotic relationship in the 1970s and 1980s. They were amazed by the teamwork showed by the pair. The goby fish swims with its tail touching the antennae of the pistol shrimp. When it sees danger, it warns the shrimp that danger is nearby. In exchange for this service, the shrimp allows the goby to sleep in the safety of the shrimp’s tunnel.

What can we learn from this? We can learn the power of complementing the strengths of an ally. Many small countries in the world today have low military power, but have land that is rich with resources. These small countries should seek alliances with big, militarily powerful countries that have almost exhausted their natural resources. Their abilities complement each other, and make them much stronger as a whole than either would be alone. For example, Nigeria is very weak, but is rich in oil. The United States Energy Information Administration estimates that Nigeria contains somewhere between 16 and 22 billion barrels of oil. Oil is a very valuable resource, and so scarce! If a strong country like the US were to become trade partners with Nigeria, the US would have a greatly increased oil supply. Nigeria would also be benefited in the form of US intervention if a local coup or civil war erupts. The US could try to prevent war and assist in peace negotiations.  This mutual relationship would be beneficial to both partners.

Also in nature we can observe a plant and an insect that work together very well. The yucca plant and the yucca moth depend on each other to survive. The yucca plant cannot pollinate itself, so it relies on the moth to do that. After the plant is pollinated, the moth lays its eggs in the plant. When the offspring hatch, they feed on the seeds of the plant. However, if they eat all of the seeds, then the plant will die. Without the plant to lay it’s eggs in, the yucca moth will die out. Remarkably, the moth carefully calculates the number of eggs to lay so that the offspring do not eat all the seeds and leave some for the plant.

What can we learn from this? The care and consideration shown by the moth is sometimes not seen in humans. The people in the world with many opportunities for a good education and a good life should try to help those who may not have as many opportunities as them. According to Statistic Brain Research Institute, 8,300 people drop out of high school each day. Over 3 million drop out annually. We need to help these people. They drop out for a variety of reasons, but they can all be helped. There are many free, nonprofit tutoring organizations, such as giveyouth.org, learntobe.org, and strivetutoring.org, that all try to give potential dropouts the attention and education they need to graduate. I propose that all middle and high schools start a tutoring club that aims to allow academically advanced students help those who are underprivileged or struggling in school. It could be called TTUSS (Teen Tutoring for Underprivileged and Struggling Students). The main focus of TTUSS should be on STEM topics, because sadly, many of the students in our nation are struggling with them. I believe that this program would greatly decrease the dropout rate in the US and enhance our STEM position in the world.

From the coyote and the badger, the power of unity is clearly established. We need to work together to reduce negative activities in the world, such as terrorism. Second, from the pistol shrimp and goby fish we learnt that nations should seek alliances with other nations that benefit them both. This is the power of mutualism. Lastly, from the yucca plant and the yucca moth, we discovered that there are so many people who may need the assistance of people who are more proficient than them in a certain subject. This is the power of collaboration. We can learn so many lessons from the plant and animal kingdoms.


2016 Peace Essay

by Amelia Seabury, gr. 8, , Albert Hill MS, Richmond Public Schools

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.” In our society today, there is abundance of hands being shaken, but an overabundance of fists being clenched. How can we hope to progress as a species if we are constantly clashing with our own? Open your eyes to the world around you, to our true origins of the natural world. We started from the smallest organisms and, through evolution, have the capacity to do greater things than ever imagined in the past. However, we should not see ourselves as above any other creature, because we can still learn a great deal from observing cooperation in nature. Anywhere you turn, you can find instances of harmony within ecosystems, and we can apply these lessons to our community, nation, or even the world.

In the wild, there are many levels of interdependence, often occurring in unexpected and unusual places. Look to the fields to see bees and flowers, look to the seas to see fish and anemones, or look under the earth to find the most amazing team: the ants. These tiny critters are not a tremendous sight alone, simply scurrying around with no seen purpose. It is only when you step back to see the larger picture that you can comprehend the enormity of their feats. The ants show no greed or discontentment as they carry out their role in the colony. One may cut leaves while the other washes the larvae with their only care being to sustain the colony.   Ants of many kinds can be found in nearly any land environment, and are identified by their small hills that spread extensively underground. They have evolved into a complex society with organized roles that work efficiently and interlock into a fascinating community that perplexes scientists to this day.

Furthermore, humans can study ants and other living organisms to gain insight, which could lead to a more harmonious life. In similarity with the ants, we can accomplish more together than if we are alone. If we communicate and learn from one another, we would be more organized and aware of the bigger picture. This would also cause more efficiency and every person would have a purpose, a contribution, to society. Each individual becomes more than just themselves; they become part of a whole.

Though people are more technologically advanced, animals and plants experience similar dynamics, so we can apply their lessons in our lives. Day to day, we encounter family bickering on subjects including chores, favoritism, or petty dilemmas. We need to find the balance in these situations and come to compromises benefiting each opinion. Once we understand interdependence within our homes, we can look to broader ideas with greater impact. We would achieve projects in our community that could benefit areas of need that may not be addressed otherwise. With this interconnecting system where everyone has a part, no matter its size, the entire world would be a more enjoyable, more peaceful place.

Overall, the search to find peace is pressing, and we may find inspiration in nature. Attaining unity in the troubled world in which we live will be difficult, but often the most crucial things are not easy. We will need to take this feat one small action at a time and one individual at a time, just as the ants thrive by achieving tasks one insect at a time. Nature’s simple concepts that create intricate webs of ecosystems portray bonds used to survive. Those bonds are necessary to the stability of an environment and are Mother Nature’s way of showing humans how they, too, can live in balance and unity. Imagine a world without bickering, without arguing, without war; now let’s make that a reality.


Peace Essay

by Stamate Theofanos, gr. 7, Lucille Brown MS, Richmond Public Schools

A goal of the majority of the world is peace, and many search history, individuals, and current events to find solutions, but really, the answer has been around us the whole time! Nature is very peaceful, and the short bursts of violence should not turn us away from looking to nature for help. Some say that the predator/prey relationship is a relationship humans do not want, but they see it in nature, and to that point, I agree. But the rest of nature blooms in beauty, purity, and amazing variety. This beauty is something mankind could easily achieve by looking at the world around us and the lessons it tells.

Looking to nature, I try to see not just a food chain, not just predator/prey, but I look for the lessons that these nearly emotionless creatures could teach us. A particular topic, is random acts of kindness. The relationship between clownfish and sea anemone demonstrate this well. The clownfish is protected by the sea anemone and given a home. However, the anemone never receives anything in return from the clownfish, and yet it continues to help the species. This is a trait humanity struggles with constantly. We expect something in return for a good deed, but sometimes it is good to simply do the action.

Now, this does not mean that not returning the favor is good. You should always try to return the favor, but it should not be expected, if that makes sense. A perfect example is the way a bee gathers nectar from flowers, and at the same time transports pollen, thus improving each organism’s life quality. The bee is essentially giving the flower a thank you gift. It is a trait humans should pick up, as we should always strive to be the best and nicest we can. Doing this successfully will help us get one step closer to world peace.

Going back to be the best you can point, you can even do acts of kindness while doing something you need to do. An example of this is how worms clean the dirt quality for nearby plants while eating. While the worms are doing something they need, they improve the plant’s living condition. The worm does not need to eat near plants, but they do. If humans learn this skill, we could easily have a more positive attitude all around. There are no negative effects of this, and I’m surprised the majority of humans have not figured this out yet.

Some may need to think smaller than the world, which is okay, so I will explain how these lessons relate to my family and my community. In my family, all four of the members respect each other and we all do favors for each other. We don’t expect anything back, and we all live in an extremely positive household. In my community, things are similar. We do favors for each other, and it is a positive mutual relationship. We will do things such as: get the newspaper while the householders are on vacation, we always invite each other to parties (that goes for the adults and the kids), and we all are friends. This relationship helps us meet new neighbors, be introduced to new things, and just make our life a lot better!

Nature is a beautiful thing that has accompanied mankind from the beginning, and I’m surprised international leaders have not looked towards it when striving for world peace. Nature is so controlled and so precise, and plants and animals have time to live a life full of harmony. Seeing the evidence presented to me in this way inspires me to put my message out more, and tell other humans to simply look around us. I’m surprised world peace has taken so long when the answer is right in front of us.


A Symbiotic Relationship That Can Change the World

by Mona Tuli, gr. 8, Franklin MS, Fairfax VA

Dalai Lama once said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And, if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” The world has many examples of symbiotic relationships between plants and animals. The rhino and the oxpecker share a mutualistic relationship. Oxpeckers eat the ticks and parasites that live on the rhino’s skin, and the rhino has the benefit of having fewer pests on its skin. Oxpeckers also warn rhinos by chirping loudly if there is danger nearby because the rhino has poor eyesight. Humans should help each other just like the oxpecker and the rhino help each other.

The relationship between the oxpecker and the rhino should serve as a model in our community. I participate in an organization called Stop Hunger Now. Volunteers pack meals for people who don’t have enough food to eat. We pour rice, beans, vegetables, and vitamins into a bag which is sealed later. After being packed, twenty five bags are placed in a big, cardboard box so they can be shipped to another country. In this example, the volunteers, like me, can be considered the oxpeckers because we prepare the meals. The people receiving the food can be considered the rhinos. Volunteers are happy after the packing event and feel they have made a difference. Homeless people will not starve with these food bags. Keeping this in mind, I think that we should create several non-profit organizations that are similar to Stop Hunger Now. For example, there should be an organization called Let’s Have Clean Water. This organization would need volunteers to pick up trash found in rivers and lakes. Volunteers should also teach the community that having clean rivers is important for many reasons. The river and the animals living in it, in this case, would be the rhino, and the volunteers would be the oxpeckers. We can change the world if we do such small oxpecker-rhino acts of kindness.

The relationship between the oxpecker and the rhino should serve as a model globally also. Countries trade products frequently among one another. For example, NAFTA is a trade agreement among the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The United States receives fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, wine and beer, snack foods, chocolate, red meats, and vegetable oils from Mexico and Canada. The United States and Mexico export fresh fruit and vegetables, snack foods, and beer to Canada. Mexico’s imports from the United States and Canada include electrical machinery, vehicles, and oil. I believe that globally counties should develop more free trade agreements such as EFTA (European Free Trade Agreement) and SAFTA (South American Free Trade Agreement). In these examples, the smaller countries would be the oxpeckers and the larger countries are the rhinos. Countries should help one another.

As Dalai Lama said, we should be kind and sympathetic to each other, not mean and unhelpful. Everyone in the world can help another person like the oxpecker and rhino help each other. We can help our community and other countries. Will you help make a difference? Will you volunteer in organizations? Do you think our world can change if we act as the oxpecker and rhino?