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Huntington Beach students write essays to connect with their peers in South Africa

Huntington Beach students write essays to connect with their peers in South Africa
Harbour View Elementary School and Mesa View Middle School writing award winners, as well as school administrators, toss soccer balls after an assembly at Harbour View. An organization called One World hosted the competition. (Photo by Christine Cotter)

Ten Huntington Beach students have received $500 scholarships for winning an essay competition that asked: “What does ‘play’ mean to me?”

One World Play Project, which makes durable, hard-to-pop soccer balls, sponsored the contest. One World is a B-certified company, meaning it combines social responsibility with profit.

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The essay contest, which is in its first year, was open to first- to eighth-graders enrolled in Harbour View Elementary School and Mesa View Middle School. Students had the option of submitting renderings as well.

Five students selected from each school were asked to read or describe their entries at an awards ceremony on Friday at Harbour View.

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“To play is to do something you or your friends like to do or to even have fun just watching a movie,” Cameron Rauch, a fifth-grader from Harbour View, read from his winning entry at the assembly. “For crying out loud, you should just do something that makes you smile, do something relieving or relaxing on the couch. There’s so many other things I can’t keep track of. Just relax and play.”

Martin Awad, an eighth-grader who won at Mesa View, said, “When you play, you learn.”

“Don’t let anything stop you from playing,” Martin read aloud. “If it comes down to a lack of equipment, make your own or use something similar. This is because honestly with no play, we would become like robots, and all we would do was work, and life would be a whole lot sadder. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get out and play.”

Harbor View Elementary School student Cameron Rauch reads his winning entry during an assembly at the school on Friday.
Harbor View Elementary School student Cameron Rauch reads his winning entry during an assembly at the school on Friday. (Photo by Christine Cotter)

Bassil Aish, an executive board member for the company, said he was inspired to propose the event after he started thinking about “kids promoting play to kids.”

Aish said Royal Family Kids, a nonprofit based in Santa Ana, reached out to One World and expressed interest in the writing competition. They later connected One World with Jackson’s Ridge Children’s Ministry Training Centre, a nonprofit ministry in South Africa that is “dedicated exclusively to changing children’s lives,” which later reached out to Mphe-Thuto Primary School outside of Johannesburg, where students answered the same essay question.

Aish, a parent of children at both Harbour View and Mesa View, then pitched the competition to local school administrators who picked it up and were “instrumental” because “I needed principals to put in the work to have an international program that exposes how play is used in other countries.”

Aish presented $1,500 checks to both Harbour View and Mesa View at the assembly to help fund creative writing and play.

“These kids are amazing,” said Randy Lempert, principal at Mesa View. “You know, we hear a lot of negativity in this world, and our students are truly difference-makers. I just believe in these kids, and they’re showcasing their true talents to the world. I’ve got to give credit to the teachers that promoted and encouraged the kids to go for it.”

Joy Harris, the principal for Harbour View, said the entries came from the heart.

“When we talk to the students about the world of play and the world of sharing and collaborating … this fits very nicely into the things we do every day at our school,” she said.

Ocean View School District Supt. Carol Hansen said it’s important to not only connect students to another culture, but to the health benefits of play.

“Students that play regularly are healthy, and we really do need to focus in on not just the academic … but also talk about the importance of play, which I believe really does connect to being a healthy individual,” Hansen said. “We want to start early with balancing the academics and the play, and that was what was so beautiful about [the writing competition] to me.”

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