Demonstrated success out of Jo Ann Nahirny’s classroom at Matanzas High School are now routine, whether it’s her SAT prep courses’ single-handed ability to push the school’s critical reading SAT scores past state and national averages or the disproportionately large number of her students who take and pass Advanced Placement tests.
But even for a Nahirny student, what Kathryn Perez has achieved places her by any measure among the very best young writers in the nation. That’s not Nahirny’s opinion, or that of anyone else in Flagler schools or in Florida.
It’s the opinion of New York Times judges, who picked her as one of 10 runners-up to the paper’s first-ever Student Editorial Contest this week. Perez’s entry was chosen out of thousands of submissions as judges at one point were receiving 200 entries an hour.
“For the many thousands of students who participated in this contest but didn’t get recognized,” The Times’s Michael Gonchar and Katherine Schulten wrote on April 22, “we would like to put the numbers in perspective. Even though the chances of getting admitted to elite colleges like Stanford and Harvard were slimmer than ever this year (around 5 percent), the odds of getting chosen by our judges were even smaller than that.”
Perez, a 16-year-old junior who started writing when she was about 5 (she turns 17 next month) beat those odds with an editorial that counterintuitively defends and celebrates Barbie–“this plastic radical”–as as a feminist icon.
“For the less open-minded individuals of society who view Barbie as a sex symbol, Barbie crushes the critics with feminism at its finest,” Perez concludes. (See the full editorial below.) “Well-endowed or A-cup, plastic or genuine skin, firefighter/astronaut/president Barbie drags a dangerous stereotype into the spotlight. True, Barbie’s figure does not conform to every woman on the face of the Earth. Regardless, Barbie’s accomplishments, albeit fictional, serve as the voice of reason for females trapped in the misguided world of nonfiction.” After all, Perez ends mischievously, “Barbie owns the Corvette and Dream House, not Ken.”
Her editorial was chosen among the best not only for their clear arguments and solid evidence, the judges said, but because , but also because they “argued their claims in original, persuasive voices.”
Perez has been in Nahirny’s AP English Language and Composition class since August. It’s her first-ever AP class. She’s on track to score a 5, the highest possible grade, on her May 9 exam, which should net her six college English credits, enough to exempt her from the basic freshmen requirement composition classes, Nahirny says.
“I knew Kathryn had a special way with words the first time I read her prose back in the fall,” Nahirny said. “She needed no prompting from me, just a few tips to polish her technique. She’s absorbed everything I’ve taught her —and even more on her own. She’s that eager to hone her craft. I’ve only had a handful of such gifted writers in my career, and I know she’s going to accrue a lengthy string of bylines …and in the not-too-distant future, either. There is no topic, no question, no prompt, that she can’t handle. Her impromptu writing skills parallel some of the best professional journalists. I can count on one hand the students in 16 years I’ve had whose minds works as rapidly as hers when composing. She can put together a piece with a flair for language that is unmatched by 99 percent of the students I’ve taught over the years. I could easily see her in a career as a spot news reporter.”
Nahirny isn’t imagining Perez’s characteristic facility with wit. “Mrs. Nahirny, I’m crying right now,” Perez wrote her teacher Tuesday evening, when she learned of having been named a runner-up. “I love you in the most platonic way a teacher and student can.”
Despite her tender age, Perez has already developed the methods of a self-assured writer. Unsure about a technical writing problem, she will spend an hour “flipping through instructional writing books for tips. I also consult many writing blogs that offer daily, open-interpretation prompts in the form of pictures or one-liners.” Writing comes easily to her. She doesn’t agonize over drafts a-la-Fitzgerald and doesn’t seem to have much patience for the American mania of re-writing. But she’s also always asking herself: “Could I word this better?”
“Editing isn’t essentially as fun as writing the first draft itself,” Perez says, “but it definitely feels a lot cleaner and more polished when the final draft is all fixed. For me, it’s like doing laundry, except with messy red ink and abuse of the backspace key instead of a dryer.”
Perez summarized how she evolved as a writer: “While I grew up loving reading, I loved watching the characters move around and thought, ‘I want to do that too.’ I started to make up my own characters and short stories on construction paper in the Kindergarten classroom and it ended up following me the rest of my life. While I grew up writing slews of fantasy tales with princesses and magic, I became obsessed with writing about taboo topics around middle school, fiction or nonfiction. As far as writing formats go, I’ve always much preferred writing fictional stories and novels dealing with real issues as opposed to nonfiction. I’m even in the process of writing a novel dealing with the prescription drug trade.”
How Do Barbie Dolls Influence Young Girls Today?
From the moment a child exits the womb, gender roles descend at lightning speed onto the anatomically-identified girl or boy in a mother’s arms. The stage is set on Day One for baby’s first bout with misogyny; pink, frilly dolls and princess costumes for each and every little girl in America, lest she accidentally poison her gender role-washed mind with thoughts of monster trucks and Spiderman. Enter Barbie, the variable wrecking-ball of gender roles. While oftentimes perceived as a heavily oppressive and negative influence on the minds of children, Barbie proceeds to defy the cult of domesticity for 41 years strong, “Being Who She Wants To Be” to the tune of $1.3 billion in sales (Hays). Persecuted in the same manner as the sexualized, discriminated women of society today, Barbie breaks down the barriers of confused children globally, expanding the horizons of the occupational world and beyond.
Despite accusations by psychologists towards the plastic female, Barbie offers more to young girls than simply anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder. Banned in Saudi Arabia in 1995 merely for her appearance (Hoskins), Barbie sheds light on dangerously-ignored discriminatory practices against women in society. Rather than stress the values of surrendering to the realm of men and accepting traditional roles in the workforce, this plastic radical has assumed the role of astronaut, airline pilot, doctor, fashion model, firefighter and beyond since the 50s (Tschiggfrie). Barbie becomes a battering ram against gender barriers in society, truly instilling her classic “Be Who You Want To Be” motto in the brains of young, empowered females globally. Rather than cram the ideologies of a “submissive and obedient” woman into the oh-so-susceptible brains of youth, Barbie stands as a global reminder to girls of the accomplishments possible for those blessed with feminine charm.
For the less open-minded individuals of society who view Barbie as a sex symbol, Barbie crushes the critics with feminism at its finest. “Who’s to say,” Barbie and her smooth hourglass figure practically scream, “that a woman may only be judged by how she looks?” Well-endowed or A-cup, plastic or genuine skin, firefighter/astronaut/president Barbie drags a dangerous stereotype into the spotlight. True, Barbie’s figure does not conform to every woman on the face of the Earth. Regardless, Barbie’s accomplishments, albeit fictional, serve as the voice of reason for females trapped in the misguided world of nonfiction (read: America, society, Planet Earth). The plastic president to this day continuously cries “Be Who You Want To Be,” not “Turn Tail And Surrender Because The Patriarchy Said So”. After all, Barbie owns the Corvette and Dream House, not Ken.
Students were required to include a list of their sources. Perez’s were as follows:
Hays, Constance. “A Role Model’s New Clothes.” New York Times 1 4 2000, n. pag. Print. < http://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/01/business/a-role-model-s-new-clothes.html>.
Hoskins, Stephanie. “The Negative Effects of Barbie on Young Girls and the Long Term Results.” Divine Caroline. n. page. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. <http://www.divinecaroline.com/life-etc/momhood/negative-effects-barbie-young-girls-long-term-results>.
Tschiggfrie, Sarah. “Student Study Shows How Barbie Affects Girls’ Ideas of Their Future Capabilities.”Washington and Lee University. (2010): n. page. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. < http://www2.wlu.edu/x48373.xml>.
Great job, sweet girl! Mom and dad are SO proud! Xoxo
Big Red says
Way to go!
BIG JOHN says
What an excellent essay! Congratulations!!
Joseph Pulitzer says
Bravo! Off to a great start for this your lady. Hats off to her and her teacher for a job well done!
Congratulations to student Kathryn Perez potential literature Pulitzer Prize in not too distant future!!
Imagine to share the limelight with William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Federico Garcia Lorca, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jose Marti, Scott Fitzgerald, Maya Angelou and hundreds more. Happy trails Kathryn and remember always, that you can go as high as you wish if you work hard enough to get there!
What a joyous story! Hope this young woman knows how happy her success makes others she doesn’t even know.
Congratulations to TWO very outstanding winners! There is no greater reward than being able to do what you love best and to realize that the only limitations on you are those you place there yourself.
Another one of Ms. Nahirny’s eagles is ready to fly!
Linda Morgan says
Congratulations Kathryn Perez and thumbs up for a job well done. I’m thankful for Flagler County employing Ms. Nahirny as a teacher in our county and even though I have never heard of or met either person, I am proud of their work. Keep up the dream, Kathryn!
congratulations!! this is a fantastic achievement. Please lets focus on more of these success stories and let our kids know that everything is possible . thank you so much for this good news story :)
Congratulations young lady. Writing may not be the easiest profession if you choose to pursue it, but believe me, few other occupations will prove more rewarding, knowing your words have the power to move readers. If you impressed the editorial board of the NY Times, I’d say you’re on your way.
Kudos to the teacher for being such a fine inspiration and doing your, at most times, thankless job with excellence! Good work Miss Perez! Keep it up and continue to make your parents and teachers who believed in you proud!!!
Amanda Johnson says
Wel said .. Way to go girl..
You guys are so nice >w<
I'm flattered, but I just wanted an A on my assignment!