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Statewide Teacher, 15 Regional Student Winners Also Recognized at Culture Center Ceremony

Abigail Miller, who is now in the 5th Grade at A.T. Allison Elementary in Hancock County, was named this year’s $5,000 Grand Prize Winner of the 2023 SMART529 “When I Grow Up” essay contest during a special recognition ceremony Friday at the Culture Center in Charleston.

The annual essay contest’s 15 regional student winners and statewide teacher winner, which were announced earlier this year, along with their families and school officials attended Friday’s awards ceremony to be recognized and read their winning essays.

Miller was one of 15 regional winners of the essay contest and was randomly selected as the grand prize winner during the awards ceremony. In her essay, she wrote about her dream of growing up to become a culinary chemist.

“The When I Grow Up contest is always a great event that brings kids together with their parents to talk about their future career dreams and to start preparing for how they can achieve them,” State Treasurer Riley Moore said. “We always tell people, ‘It’s never too early to start saving for your child’s future,’ and this essay contest helps families focus on their child’s goals. This contest is always an inspiring event, and I congratulate these young children for sharing their dreams.”

This is the 16th year for the annual When I Grow Up essay contest.

More than 3,000 students around the state participated in the contest this year. Essays from three age groups (grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5) were judged in each of the five geographic regions, for a total of 15 regional winners.

Each regional student winner received $500 to invest into a SMART529 account. The grand prize winner receives an additional $4,500.

Each regional winner’s school was awarded a $500 cash prize to support school programs.

In addition to the student essays, kindergarten through fifth grade teachers also had the opportunity to compete in the teacher portion of the essay contest. 

This year’s winning teacher – Amanda Coon, a 5th Grade teacher at C.W. Shipley Elementary in Jefferson County – also received a $2,500 cash prize.

This year’s 15 regional student winners, their schools and dream professions are (grades/schools reflect when they entered the contest last winter; they have all moved up a grade for this fall semester):

2023 “When I Grow Up” Contest Student Winners

Region One: 

  • Paxton Goble, Kindergarten at Justice Elementary, Logan County – Scientist 
  • Rylee Workman, 3rd Grade at St. Francis de Sales School, Raleigh County – Clothes Designer
  • Lillian Stewart, 4th Grade at Berlin McKinney Elementary, Wyoming County – Restaurant Owner

Region Two: 

  • Joel Mitchell, Kindergarten at Kenna Elementary, Kanawha County – Engineer
  • Ella Grant, 3rd Grade at Buffalo Elementary, Putnam County – Agriculture Teacher
  • Elijah Deskins, 5th Grade at Covenant School, Cabell County – Helicopter Pilot

Region Three: 

  • Luke Garofoli, Kindergarten at St. Francis Central Catholic School, Monongalia County – Astronaut
  • Evelyn Yuhase, 3rd Grade at Mountainview Elementary, Monongalia County – Fashion Designer
  • Bradley Darling, 4th Grade at Mountainview Elementary, Monongalia County – Engineer

Region Four: 

  • William “Liam” Garner, Kindergarten at Widmyer Elementary School, Morgan County – Astronaut
  • Naphtali Messiah Matthews, 3rd Grade at Orchard View Intermediate, Berkeley County – Speech Pathologist
  • Railen Plauger, 5th Grade at Third Ward Elementary, Randolph County – Nurse for the Military

Region Five: 

  • Ryker Roberts, Kindergarten at Hilltop Elementary, Marshall County – Grocery Store Owner
  • Madeline Farnsworth, 3rd Grade at Kanawha Elementary, Wood County – Business Owner
  • Abigail Miller, 4th Grade at A.T. Allison Elementary, Hancock County – Culinary Chemist

The When I Grow Up student and teacher essay contests are sponsored by SMART529, Hartford Funds and the West Virginia State Treasurer’s Office to promote awareness of SMART529 and the need for higher education savings.

SMART529 is a qualified tuition program issued by the Board of Trustees of the West Virginia College and Jumpstart Savings Programs and administered by Hartford Funds. Complete information about SMART529 and the “When I Grow Up” essay contest is available at

The Treasury does not collect state taxes. Visit the The West Virginia State Tax Department for assistance.

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