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Little Neck students to march with soldiers in parade

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Nearly four dozen Queens youngsters won the chance to spread some patriotic cheer to soldiers overseas and walk among the nation's bravest at this year's Memorial Day Parade in Little Neck.

The 45 children, who were selected winners in the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade Organization's art and essay contest, were honored during a ceremony at Fort Totten Friday.

"They present their essays and it's a wonderful experience," the parade organization's chairman James Rodgers said of the event, which was attended by more than 200 people.

The contest was open to children from kindergarten to eighth-grade, with 12 local schools participating.

Participants of all ages were able to compete in the art competition, while the essay contest was open to fourth- through ninth-graders. The students competed against other children in their grade.

The art and essay topics varied for each grade. A group of three children from each grade was selected as winners.

Themes for the art and essays were patriotic. For instance, kindergartners were asked to draw a picture of themselves, their friends and the American flag. Second-graders drew the Statute of Liberty, New York City and arriving immigrants.

Topics for older students ranged from "the founding of our nation" for fourth-graders to "the price of freedom" for ninth-graders.

Devhal Mehta, an MS 67 eighth-grader, won the poetry and essay contest's grand prize with his poem "Unshackling Freedom."

In his poem, Devhal wrote, "We must band together/and fight for what's right/as freedom must stand/through this dark night."

Carla Valenti, a fourth-grader from St. Anastasia's, took home third place in her grade for her essay on the country's founding.

"We can continue the early Americans hard work by learning about and celebrating Memorial Day," Carla wrote.

A colorful drawing by Daniel Kiernan, a fourth-grader from Lakeville School in Great Neck, won top honors in the art competition.

Daniel's drawing included the original American flag — representing the 13 colonies — the cracked Liberty Bell, George Washington, soldiers and the words, "We fought to be free."

The winning students were invited to march alongside U.S. soldiers in the parade on Memorial Day.

All of the winning artwork, essays and poems will be featured at Scobee Diner on Northern Boulevard for the next two weeks, Rodgers said. Then they will be shipped to a military officer at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, who will mail the work to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reach reporter Katy Gagnon by e-mail at kgagnon@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 174.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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