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CHARLESTON — During a Facebook Live event last week on the WV Treasury Facebook page, West Virginia State Treasurer John Perdue announced the grand prize winner of this year’s SMART529 “When I Grow Up” essay contest. The announcement kicks off a month-long national awareness campaign celebrating September as College Savings Month.

The 15 regional winners and their parents — including Hurricane Town Elementary fourth-grader Noah Schoenberger, who wrote about becoming a baker — joined the live event on Facebook.

Piper Carmen of Geary Elementary in Roane County was randomly selected as the grand prize winner during the live event. Carmen, who will be in second grade this upcoming school year, wrote about becoming a nurse when she grows up. She will receive a total of $5,000 invested in a SMART529 Direct account.

Each regional winner was given the opportunity to read their essays for teachers, friends and family members watching from home. The regional winners were first announced during a Facebook Live event in May. Each winner received $500 invested into a SMART529 WV Direct Account. Each winning student’s school was also recognized and awarded a $500 cash prize to support school programs. This year’s 15 regional winners were selected from more than 4,600 essays, a record-breaking number of entries.

“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t recognize these student achievements in person this year, but we hope that the students and their parents enjoyed having their extended family and friends take part in the celebration with a live online event,” Perdue said in a news release.

In its thirteenth year, the SMART529 “When I Grow Up” essay contest gives kindergarten through fifth-grade students a chance to share in $12,000 in SMART529 savings for higher education. Essays from three age groups (grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5) were judged in each of the five regions, for a total of 15 winners.

Typically, Perdue recognizes the “When I Grow Up” regional winners at an awards ceremony at the West Virginia State Culture Center as well as spring events at each winning student’s school. Both the spring visits and the award ceremony in Charleston were canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our celebration may look a little different this year, but these students’ achievements, and the message that goes along with the ‘When I Grow Up’ contest, are just as important,” Perdue said. “We want to encourage children to set a goal for an education beyond high school and make people aware of the benefits of saving with a SMART529 education savings account.”

In addition to the student winners, Tamara Klemkowsky, a second-grade teacher at Suncrest Elementary School in Monongalia County, was recognized as the teacher contest winner. She received a $2,500 cash prize for her essay about how she planned to educate her students about going to college and saving with the SMART529 program.

The “When I Grow Up” student and teacher essay contests are sponsored by SMART529, Hartford Funds and the West Virginia State Treasurer’s Office to promote awareness of SMART529 and the need for higher education savings.

To see a recording of the Facebook Live event visit www.facebook.com/WVTreasury or go to www.wvtreasury.com for more information. A complete list of the student winners is on the next page.

Information about this year’s essay contests were made available online, on social media, in SMART529’s school newsletter, and through direct mail publications. SMART529 is a qualified tuition program issued by the West Virginia Prepaid College Tuition and Savings Program Board of Trustees and administered by Hartford Funds. Complete information about SMART529 and the “When I Grow Up” essay contest is available at www.SMART529.com.

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