BURLINGTON – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ annual essay contest awarded two Milton High School students as finalists in January. The 8th Annual State of the Union essay contest gave Vermont high school students an opportunity to describe which issues they would prioritize if they were president.

This year, 585 students from 47 Vermont high schools submitted 250-500 word essays – more schools than any prior year. A panel of seven Vermont teachers served as volunteer judges and selected Jake McNeil and Jackson Noel as finalists.

Marjorie Parker, a sophomore at Woodstock Union High School as this year’s winner. Parker focused on the need to prevent hate crimes, particularly against members of the LGBT community.

“I always enjoy speaking with these students about what they would change to make our country a better place,” said Sanders, who serves on the Senate Education Committee. “We need our students to help find solutions for the problems that face our country. That’s what democracy is all about.”

The winners and finalists will also have their essays entered into the Congressional Record, the official archive of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Since Sanders held the first State of the Union essay contest, thousands of students from schools throughout Vermont have written essays on a wide range of important issues such as the declining middle class, climate change, health care, the national debt, the rising cost of a college education and many other topics.


No educator left behind
by Jake McNeil, Milton High School senior

Vermont is a unique state that is comprised of small, tight-knit communities; these communities have a close relationship with local government. Teachers, a vital component to both the community and in promoting students to be forward-thinkers, help shape Vermont into the innovative and creative state that it is. Lately, however, there has been a lack of consideration in regards to the teachers who are at the heart of Vermont’s schools and communities. Scattered across our Facebook feeds and blasted from our car radios are stories of local school districts’ strife. For decades, teacher strikes have become commonplace, each with a lasting impact on the Vermont education system. The Vermont-National Education Association (VT-NEA) has recorded over 26 strikes in the state. However, this issue is not just relevant to Vermont, but every state across the country. Teachers are a fundamental part of our school systems and are influential in the development of future generations, which is why I believe it is essential that attention is paid to the underlying issues that spark these strikes. From underfunded schools and issues with employee contracts to unsatisfactory working conditions and hefty workloads, the laundry list of problems is anything but miniscule. We must do two things: open the door to productive communication by letting teachers air their grievances, and have school boards focus more resources on trying to resolve those issues. This will help teachers attain and deliver the curricula they desire by coordinating cost saving measures, all without breaking the town budgets. The students of America, our future generation, deserve an education without interruption.

We need to have teachers and leadership communicate constantly to get the schools and outcomes we desire. By engaging in productive, civil and persistent dialogue between all parties, teachers serve as models in promoting the behaviors they want to instill in their students, like myself, and the community: standing up against injustice, making difficult decisions, and insisting on being treated with dignity and respect — despite such actions being perceived as very difficult and unpopular. In essence, continual dialogue among all parties is a more productive, and instructive, model for our teachers and leadership to follow. The process of continual dialogue will help all parties involved identify areas in the system that need funding by communicating and pinpointing the specific areas of interest: materials, professional development, and teacher contracts. This allows leadership to make informed choices about budgeting, which is a more effective use of limited funds.

Education is an essential service, and as such we must strive to make it better. As President John F. Kennedy said, “The race between education and erosion, between wisdom and waste has not run its course.” We are still in the race, and by having teachers, state, and national leadership continue to work together, we can place ourselves in the best position to win the race. As Americans, it is critical for citizens to support the educators that shape our communities into the melting pot of growth and creativity that they are today.


By Jackson Noel, Milton High School senior

With a nation as large as the United States there is a constant stream of issues and problems that require addressing. This means that the most important issues are those that involve the largest portion of the United States population. In that way, the biggest issue that the United States should currently focus on is making sure that every American can afford and has access to healthcare.

Every American should have the right to healthcare, as wealth should not determine quality of life. Healthcare is an incredibly important aspect of everyone’s lives as it allows them to live without worrying about not having access to critical care and treatment to thrive. In this way, the solution to this problem is the maintaining and constant adjusting of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) to best suit and assist the American people. The benefits the Affordable Care Act is deceptively simple in that more Americans would be able to afford and hold onto healthcare. This means that they would be able to live a better life and be better functioning members of society. The Affordable Care Act has proven to be a legitimate solution since it has been enacted under the Obama administration. According to the New York Times, the number of Americans without healthcare is “down by 25 percent.” This shows that the Affordable Care Act is effective at achieving its goals.

There are many people who believe that the United States government should play no role in healthcare, this is a flawed perspective. The goal is insure as many American citizens as possible it makes the most sense to have defined government regulation. One belief is that there should be a free market for health insurance, allowing companies to compete to provide the best system to benefit the people. There are many problems with a free market healthcare system that stops it from being helpful and most useful for the American people. A free market is not designed to allow for everyone to have insurance, but rather people who can afford it having better access. This is not beneficial on the national scale and leads to a large imbalance of power. There are also numerous flaws in the current American approach to health care. For one, even when someone is insured there are upfront fees and payments before insurance kicks in. This means that someone who is insured might not be able to pay these fees causing them to be financially burdened by bills even with insurance.

Universal government health care has proven to be a sufficient solution to the problem of health care. For example, Switzerland has universal health care and a per capita health expenditures of $1879, compared to America’s $4160. Meaning that the United States is spending more money on less.

Making sure that this is available and maintained under the Trump administration is important in the path towards accessible health insurance. No one should ever die because they cannot afford treatment.