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Honoring students' plans

James Earl Jones helps congratulate eight students who won a Verizon essay contest to detail their future.

Published March 9, 2005

TAMPA - Dorothy "Joy" Gann plans to use computers to take online college classes. She'll buy her textbooks through the Internet.

Jonathan Wong wants to pilot a spaceship to Mars. An onboard computer would keep him on course and on schedule.

And Joey Jaynes aspires to become a famous author. He'll use the computer to conduct research for his novels.

These three students were among eight winners in an essay contest, sponsored by Verizon, which asked why computers and the Internet were important to the education and future of students' lives.

"It will help my education so I can become an author of funny books," said Joey, a third-grader at Seminole Elementary.

Throughout Pinellas County, hundreds of students between third and eighth grades submitted essays. Only a handful of entries came from Hillsborough County. Eight winners - all from Pinellas County - were honored Tuesday morning at the Verizon Plus store on N Dale Mabry Highway.

Award-winning actor James Earl Jones, who is the deep, smooth voice behind Verizon and also Darth Vader, handed out trophies and posed for pictures.

But there were no references to Luke Skywalker or his father. Instead, the kids were more excited to meet the voice of Mufasa from the Lion King.

Jones put a hand on their shoulders. "The paw of Mufasa," his voice boomed, drawing laughter.

Jones lauded them not only for their appreciation for computers, but for their communication skills.

"As you know, being well read is critical to one's success and a cornerstone to developing superior writing skills," he said. "Having the ability to read and to speak to issues, whether in writing or in conversation, is critical to the success of our youth."

The winning essays were selected by a panel of judges assembled by Verizon. At the end of the celebration, the store's manager selected a name from a bowl. Joy Gann, the sixth-grade student from John Hopkins Middle School in Pinellas County who plans to take online college courses, won a laptop computer and free Verizon Online DSL or Dial-up Internet service for one year.

Joy read from her essay, which was inspired by her mom, Welcita Gann. Gann works in the computer lab at St. Petersburg College and take classes online.

She also wrote that she could chat with coworkers online, go on educational Web sites to prepare for FCATs and buy educational material.

Joy and the other winners also received trophies with their names inscribed on them, $50 each, Shrek telephones and photographs signed by Jones.

The parents, siblings and principals who attended the ceremony received telephones.

Stephanie Adkinson, principal at Tyrone Middle School, was among the group. She came to support her student, seventh-grader Jonathan Wong.

Adkinson said teachers made the contest a part of their class assignments.

"We flooded them with essays," Adkinson said. "Just to get them thinking, get them participating, was exciting."

[Last modified March 9, 2005, 00:54:20]

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