News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, February 27, 2020
DISHS senior wins $5,000 scholarship for essay
National contest on paying for college

Grand prize winner

Katie Hutchinson won $5,000 in scholarship money by winning the national PAYDAY Challenge essay contest. Her teacher, Rhonda Turner, encouraged her to enter the contest. Katie also went to the finals on the Deer Isle-Stonington girls’ basketball team.

Photo by Leslie Landrigan Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Leslie Landrigan

Katie Hutchinson won a $5,000 scholarship as a finalist in a national essay contest, an achievement that eventually may be more satisfying than winning the semifinals in girls basketball.

Hutchinson, a senior at Deer Isle-Stonington High School, learned in December she was one of 10 grand prize winners in a contest sponsored by Next Gen Personal Finance. Then, in February, she played in the Mariners’ tournament victories all the way to the regional finals.

“In the long run, the $5,000 [is better], but in the short run, the semifinals,” Hutchinson said in an interview on Tuesday, February 25.

Her decision to enter the contest grew out of her personal finance class, taught by Rhonda Turner for the first time this school year.

The course topics include behavioral finance, checking, paying for college, taxes, saving, insurance, types of credit, managing credit and investing. Next Gen Personal Finance, a California-based nonprofit, provided teaching resources for the course.

Hutchinson took the personal finance course as an elective and said she learned a lot from it. She used to think credit cards were bad, she said, but now she thinks she’ll get one after turning 18.

Even the students who didn’t win the essay contest said the course helped them.

“Pretty much everything I learned in the class is going to be useful at some point in my life,” wrote one student in an end-of-course survey.

“I would for sure recommend this class to other students and make sure this class continues to be offered in our school,” wrote another.

As part of the curriculum, Turner encouraged her students to play an online game called PAYBACK about paying for college. She also urged them to write an essay about it for the PAYBACK Challenge contest. Hutchinson took the challenge.

“If you have the opportunity, why not do it?” Hutchinson said.

She chose to answer the question, “Write a letter to your future self that you will open after your freshman year of college, reminding you of the key skills you will need to thrive during your college years.”

Hutchinson wrote, “You have made it through your first year of college. Way to go! You’re probably pretty excited to come back home, but you better be working while you’re here. Three months might not seem like a lot of time to make money, but you won’t regret it when you get to treat yourself to Kraft mac and cheese rather than ramen.”

A total of 200,000 students played the PAYBACK game and 900 entered the essay contest, according to an NGPF press release.

Turner first learned in an email that Hutchinson had won the prize. She had a hard time keeping the news to herself.

“I was about busting a gut,” Turner said. She’s very proud of Katie, she said, and thrilled that the NGPF curriculum and PAYBACK Challenge gave her a jump on paying for college.