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OCPS Student Repeats Victory in National Speech Contest

Courtesy of Orange County Public Schools

Jennifer Blocker

OCPS student Jennifer Blocker is once again the national winner of the Modern Woodmen of America Oration Contest, a feat she accomplished previously in 2002.

Jennifer, who competed this year as an eighth grader at Chain of Lakes Middle School, won for her presentation describing Coca-Cola® as a great American invention.

"Our speech contest started in the 1940s and Jennifer is our first repeat national winner," said Kerri Rursch, assistant to the Fraternal Director, who oversees youth programs for Modern Woodmen of America. "That says a lot about Jennifer's remarkable skills as a speaker."
Rursch reported that more than 88,000 students across the country participated in 1,078 Modern Woodmen of American oration competitions this past school year. The program focuses on students in grades 5-8, who make presentations of three to five minutes. Each year there is a new topic, based on suggestions from teachers who use the program. Jennifer's videotaped entry was judged the best of 25 entries by a panel of independent judges at the Modern Woodmen of America corporate headquarters in Illinois.

Diana Lewis and Christine Otto, gifted program teachers at Chain of Lakes Middle, helped coach Jennifer during the three levels of competition that preceded the national judging. Lewis said it was Jennifer's unique way of presenting the topic that cemented her victory. "She approaches it as a defense attorney making closing arguments to a jury," Lewis explained. "She makes the case that Coca-Cola® is guilty of being a great American invention."

When Jennifer learned about the theme for this year, she first thought of selecting an American invention that contributed to people's comfort, like street lights or air conditioning. But after polling others' opinions and doing more research, she decided on a more entertaining product. She liked the fact that, even in times of global conflict, when other countries may not have agreed with America's way of doing business, "Coca-Cola® brought everyone together for shared enjoyment."

Jennifer's family has been supportive and proud of her accomplishments — especially her mom, Gloria. "She was my anchor," Jennifer said. "She helped me be concrete on my deadlines, and on some late nights, would crack the whip on how to say the speech and be ready for the next day."

Support from Jennifer's teachers was equally important. She credits her gifted teachers, Lewis and Otto (who has left the school system to return to Canada), with helping her refine the speech.

Now that Jennifer has entered ninth grade at Olympia High, she is no longer eligible to compete in the Modern Woodmen of America Oration Contest. She plans to get involved in debate and drama, areas in which she can use her public speaking skills.

Even though Jennifer has convincingly delivered closing arguments as a lawyer in this speech competition, don't expect her to be applying to law school any time soon. "I plan to pursue a career in acting," she said.