Students from New Jersey and Colorado win top honors in NCSC’s Civics Education Essay Contest

Deirdre Roesch
Social Communications Coordinator
National Center for State Courts


Williamsburg, Va. (April 30, 2019)Two students from New Jersey and one from Colorado won first place in the National Center for State Courts’ (NCSC) 2019 Civics Education Essay Contest, which is divided into three categories: elementary, middle, and high school.

The contest, which focused on the First Amendment, asked students to answer the following questions: “Should there be limits to free speech? Why or why not?”

This year’s first-place winners are: 

  • Avery DiMaria, a 10th-grader at Leonia High School, in Edgewater, New Jersey;
  • Katy Sands, an eighth-grader at West Middle School in Greenwood Village Colorado; and
  • Nicholas Bernardi, a fifth-grader at Samsel Upper Elementary in Parlin, New Jersey.

A record number of 1,188 students from 41 states participated in the contest. This year, thanks to an anonymous donor, the nine winners received a total of $2,100 in cash.

NCSC’s essay contest is held annually to commemorate Law Day, May 1. Before judging, students’ names, schools and states are removed from the entries. The winning essays are selected based on accuracy, creativity, and originality. This year, Vermont Chief Justice Paul Reiber and Marilyn Cover, ret., former executive director of Oregon’s Classroom Law Project and the recipient of NCSC’s 2018 Sandra Day O’Connor Award, judged the final round of the contest.

Second- and third-place winners include:

  • 9th – 12th grade: Ryan Lasloudji from Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, is the second-place winner, and Tina Zheng from Townsend Harris High School in Flushing, New York, came in third.
  • 6th – 8th grade: Allen Fiejdasz from Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts Magnet School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, won second place; and Justice Sensebe from St. Mary’s Assumption School in Cottonport, Louisiana, is the third-place winner.
  • 3rd – 5th grade: Harun Rayyan Siddiqui from Penacook Elementary School in Penacook, New Hampshire received second place; and Haven Nguyen from Lakewood Creek Elementary in Montgomery, Illinois, came in third.

Chief Justice Reiber was incredibly impressed by the elementary school essay entries. “Substance is what captures me, that’s why Nicolas Bernardi and Harun Rayyan Siddiqui’s essays caught my attention. Cyberbullying is a real concern in school and that’s why Haven Nguyen’s essay struck a chord with me as well.”

Read the winning essay entries here.

Every year to honor Law Day, the American Bar Association (ABA) designates a theme to highlight an important issue relating to the law or the legal system. For the past six years, NCSC has framed its essay contest question around ABA’s Law Day subject, which in 2019 is “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit court organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation’s state courts.


National Center for State Courts, 300 Newport Avenue, Williamsburg, VA  23185-4147