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Two HKIS Students Place 2nd & 3rd in National Poster Contest

By Clark Judge.

(April 5, 2020) — Two fifth-graders from Haddam-Killingworth Intermediate School are among the winners of a nationally sponsored environmental-education poster contest, and that’s good. They’re also the only two students from Connecticut to be named, and that’s more than good. It’s outstanding.

But why stop there? They might be the contest’s first-ever winners from the state, and that’s … well, historic.

Lawton Duch

“Wow,” said winner Lawton Duch when notified. “I’m a little more surprised now than I was before.”

He should be. So should classmate Josie Rimmer. She’s 10 and lives in Killingworth. Duch is 11 and lives in Higganum. Both are aspiring artists who scored big in this year’s Beneath the Sea “Ocean Pals” Poster Contest for Children, grades 3-5.

Duch finished second. Rimmer finished third.

“I was excited,” said Rimmer, “but I wasn’t as flabbergasted as my Mom. She cried. So did my grandpa. He’s an artist, and both are very, very proud of me.”

Rimmer and Duch were among 15 fourth-and-fifth-grade students encouraged by Michelle O’Rourke, a LEAP (Learning Enrichment for All People) teacher at HKIS who taught science for 20 years at RSD17, to submit entries to this year’s Beneath the Sea Ocean Pals Poster Contest. It was the first year the school participated. It won’t be the last.

“I hope to make it an annual event,” O’Rourke said.

Josie and her poster

So what’s Beneath the Sea? Good question. It’s a non-profit volunteer member organization recognized nationally and internationally as a source that promotes education about the oceans, and its Ocean Pals art-in-education program is one means of bringing that education to students, their parents and teachers. This year’s poster theme was “Plastic Pollution, Ocean Solution,” with applicants advised to share their concerns for marine pollution on 18-by-24-inch hand-drawn boards.

Duch drew a merman with a trident plucking a plastic bag from the water. Rimmer’s drawing was of a sea turtle encountering a submerged plastic container. Duch estimated it took him a week to complete his work. Rimmer said it took her three nights.

In the end, both were rewarded for their work. Only a student from Tenafly, N.J., finished ahead of them.

“They list past winners back to 2010,” O’Rourke said of the contest. “I didn’t see any past winners from Connecticut. So that leads me to believe that Josie and Lawton are the first from our state.”

Contest winners were divided into four categories, Grades K-2; 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12, with first, second and third places in each, along with one honorable mention. Duch was awarded a $100 savings bond and Rimmer a $75 bond. They were scheduled to be honored last Sunday, March 29th, at the Beneath the Sea Exposition at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J., but the event was postponed because of the COVID-19 alert.

Lawton Duch’s poster

It has been rescheduled for the weekend of Oct. 9-11.

“I was a little bummed,” said Duch.

Understood. But look at the bigger picture: He and Rimmer just made history.

“I think it’s a pretty big deal,” said Rimmer. “We didn’t realize it was national. When we read the email (notifying Josie of her finish), my Mom was really excited. She thought it was just my district or New England. Then she read it again and said, ‘Wait, this is nationally?’ “

It is. Congratulations, Lawton Duch and Josie Rimmer.

“I am incredibly proud of Lawton and Josie,” said O’Rourke. “I am thrilled they’re being recognized for their artistic talents, as well as their determination and hard work. But I have to give credit to all 15 of my students who participated in this project. They were enthusiastic about taking on this project and learning more about how to clean up our oceans.”

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