Sen. Crighton leads celebration for winner of third grade holiday art contest at Belmonte STEAM Academy
Nine-year-old Orly Diaz was the guest of honor last Friday (Jan. 27) at a special pizza party held in the library of the Belmonte STEAM Academy. Orly, joined by parents – David and Elizabeth Diaz – received a gift certificate from state Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) for winning the most recent holiday art contest that his office hosts every year. While munching on their pizza and drinking their bottled water – compliments of Crighton – Orly and the other students in Jennifer Nicolo’s third grade class also got to glean some personal stuff about the senator in a wide-ranging question and answer period.
Every year since 2015, Sen. Crighton’s legislative office has hosted a holiday art contest for third graders in a new school from his district. Last Friday, the senator showed up in the library with six boxes of pizza, bottled water and enough postcards depicting Orly’s winning design for all of her classmates to officially announce the winner.
“Her card was selected from dozens of outstanding submissions from her peers,” Crighton said in a message inside the postcard.
“Orly’s colorful and imaginative drawing captures the beauty and joy of the holiday season,” he wrote.
The winning holiday card featured a snowman amidst snowflakes with a sleigh full of presents nearby. Orly received a gift card.
Crighton said he sat down with his son Nathaniel and daughter Eleanor to “look at every one of the cards” before picking the winner.
A Q&A with the senator
After the presentation to Orly, the third-graders got to ask the senator all about his job, his personal and family life and his childhood dreams. They learned he will be 40 in April; that football is his favorite sport; that he lives with his wife, son and daughter in a pet-free home; that his favorite fast food is the Express Burrito; that his middle name is Peter, after his grandfather; that his dream when he was growing up was to become an artist; and, of course, all about his job as a legislator. Crighton, who chairs the Joint Committee on Transportation, has been in the Legislature for eight years – the first three as state representative for the 11th Essex House District.
Knowing that there were local reporters in the room, Crighton smiled and wouldn’t give a direct answer to Kyle Richard’s question about “the most annoying part of your job.” “Everything is fun,” Crighton answered.
“Sometimes people think politics is a bad thing,” he said. But the senator stressed “the best part of my job is you get to help people.”
He also tried to emphasize to the young students the value of becoming good readers. “The biggest part of my job is reading,” Crighton said, noting all of the legislation and related material that winds up on his desk “every day.”
“Reading is such a great skill and a valuable tool to have,” he said.
Orly loves to read
Orly, who was still basking in the thrill of winning the contest and being the center of attention of her classmates, agreed with the senator on the value of reading. “In the first grade, I won an award for reading,” Orly said.
“My favorite subject is reading,” she added.
She proudly displayed her holiday card design as classmates came up to congratulate her. “It’s really nice. I never won anything like this before,” Orly said.
“In kindergarten, I won an award for being the kindest kid in the class,” she said.
Her message to the kids: “Keep trying. Maybe your drawing will win one day.”
Crighton called the third grade class “one of the most engaging” that he’s encountered during his visits to schools in his district. “Usually, I have to beg for questions,” the senator told the class.
The class wasn’t expecting to be questioning the senator, according to their teacher, Jennifer Nicolo. The questions were spontaneous and not rehearsed in advance, she noted.
“They were eager to learn what he did for a profession and how he got there,” said Nicolo, a 2003 Saugus High School graduate who has been an educator in Saugus Public Schools for 13 years.
Nicolo said her favorite question from the students was the one asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I like that one because we do a lot of goal setting,” Nicolo said.
“I liked at first how they were curious about the laws he contributed to and his job as senator. And then they wanted to get to know him on a personal basis – like how many pets he had and how old he was,” she said. “At one point, I was a little nervous that I would have to think up some questions that the students could keep asking him. But the students were really interested in learning about him and his job as senator. And they asked some very good questions.”
The student who asked the most controversial question – about “the most annoying part” of the senator’s job – wasn’t disappointed with Crighton’s low-key response. “I think it was cool, being able to ask him all those questions today,” said eight-year-old Kyle Richard.
“He told us a lot about himself and what he does. I would vote for him if I could. I like him. He’s nice and I think he’s very cool,” Kyle said.