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December 19, 2022

The Unstoppable Double Contests!

Laurie Miller, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Since the Attendance Awareness Poster Contest began in 2015, hundreds of thousands of posters have been created by local students about the importance of outstanding attendance. The 2022-23 Attendance Awareness Poster Contest kicked off on September 1 with a lot of momentum. The school year and the poster contest began with a sense of normalcy after the disruptions of the COVID pandemic. Things were cooking. The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) even introduced a new contest – a Contest in a Contest. How fun is that?! What’s better than one contest? – Two! It’s like Russian nesting dolls of fun – you start one contest and find another nestled just inside. Okay, so the metaphor is a little confusing, but the contest wasn’t.

Here’s how it worked. Students in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties submitted brief videos or photos explaining their poster art to the adults in their lives. Next, a student winner was selected in each county, each winning a $200 gift card. Honestly, I wish I could show up at the winners’ homes with big checks like Ed McMahon for Publishers Clearing House. *Ed McMahon never worked for Publishers Clearing House, but that’s how millions of people remember it, myself included. But that’s another story. And although I’m not delivering oversized checks to the Contest in a Contest winners, I did have the privilege of watching all the submissions. Each one made my heart smile. In fact, keep your eyes peeled for a video highlights reel in the future. Just know that if you decide to watch it, your heart will also smile. I’m pretty sure it’s contagious. 

But let’s rewind a bit. Like I said, the contests were off to a strong start. Things were really cooking. Unfortunately, so was the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Ian made landfall on September 28, 2022, causing significant damage and storm surge, requiring all schools in our four-county region to close. Overall, more than 2.5 million Florida students missed school during Hurricane Ian. Locally, Manatee County elementary school children missed 5 days of instruction. Students attending North Sarasota County elementary schools missed 9 days of instruction. South Sarasota County elementary school students missed 13 days of instruction. Charlotte County Elementary Schools missed 13 days of instruction, and two elementary schools in DeSoto County missed 13 days of instruction, with one school closing for 19 days.

Because of the upheaval, the SCGLR Attendance Team (pro problem solvers – Beth Duda, Donna Puhalovich, Kelli Karen Smith, Laurie Miller, and Karen Arnold) made a quick pivot, extending both the poster contest and the Contest in a Contest deadlines on a school by school basis. 

Friends, this pivot was faster than Ian itself (remember how it felt like it was inching so slowly our way?) and much more seamless than my earlier metaphor about Russian dolls. 

Ian, I realize you’re just a hurricane with a man’s name, but if you happen to be reading this, here’s what you couldn’t prevent this coast from achieving:

  • 73 Elementary Schools participating
  • 49,000 poster templates
  • 449 student winners
  • My smiling heart watching contest submissions

Like Starship sang best, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Thank you to The Patterson Foundation for their generosity in providing the prizes, the phenomenal SCGLR Attendance Awareness Poster Contest Team, and all the schools, educators, families, and students who participated in this memorable double Contest year. #EveryDayCounts

Your friend,


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