Spotlight: Isabella Wilburn Won The National Heritage Essay Contest

Isabella Wilburn says she will never forget Wednesday, April 11, 2018. She got home from school, finished up some homework, and joined her family on the couch to watch a television show. Halfway through the show, Victoria Wilburn receives an email from Isabella’s advisor, coach, and sixth-grade social studies teacher, Justin Burris.
“Isabella! Come over here,” Victoria said to her daughter with tears coming down her face.
Mr. Burris was writing to inform the Wilburns about the results of Isabella’s submission of her essay, “Freedom is Powerful,” to the National Heritage Essay Contest.
“It is with great honor and pride that I write to you today,” Mr. Burris wrote in the email. “Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Mr. Andy Gothreau, our liaison with the Broad Ripple Chapter of the Sertoma Club. He called with news pertaining to the Grand Prize Winners of the National Heritage Essay Contest. Of more than 2,000 essays composed by sixth graders from numerous schools in the area, Isabella's piece was selected as the top winner, the best of the best, THE grand prize essay.”
Isabella, now in seventh grade, recalls this moment like it was yesterday. “My mom and I were both crying, my sister was jumping around out of happiness, and my little brother started chanting and cheering—I’m sure he didn’t understand what was going on, but he was happy,” Isabella said with a huge smile on her face.
“It was the best moment of my life so far.”
Isabella was invited to be a guest at the Sertoma luncheon, where she was presented with the Grand Prize award, prize money, and the opportunity to read her essay in front of the attendees. However, Isabella was most excited about the promise that Mr. Burris makes to all students under his tutelage. Any student who wins the entire contest is allowed to glitter his beard. Samantha Smulyan '18 won in 2016 and started the tradition of the Beard Glittering Ceremonies. Isabella is only the second Orchard student to win the Grand Prize.

Orchard believes students gain confidence in their ability to advocate for themselves when teachers honor their individual voices, solutions and thinking. Because of this, students develop meaningful relationships with their teachers.
“Mr. Burris smiles a lot. He hugs a lot. He’s funny. He’s always there for people. And whenever I see him he has a smile on his face. When I was in his advisory, he would always smile and tell us that he was there for us if we ever needed someone to talk to,” Isabella said. “He’s like family.”
This sense of family and community is one of the many reasons Dr. Victoria and Sgt. Chris Wilburn moved Isabella from a traditional school to the Progressive education that students receive at Orchard.
“Isabella began her education in a traditional school. She did well, excelled academically, but we noticed she was becoming averse to trying new things, taking risks. After touring Orchard, we knew it was exactly what she needed to grow socially, emotionally, and academically,” the Wilburns said. “We believe that Orchard’s rich traditions and commitment to community are what help to inspire life-long learning.”

Read Isabella's winning essay here.