- Princeton ISD
Five campuses launch UIL events
With 29 years of experience under her belt, it’s safe to say Shannon Hughes knows a thing or two about UIL. She will be putting those skills to use this week as she coordinates the annual districtwide elementary academic contest.
Students in grades 2nd through 5th from Godwin, Harper, Lacy, Lowe and Smith will compete against each other in several academic events.
“My favorite thing about UIL is working with kids and getting them excited about academics,” said Mrs. Hughes, who has been the elementary UIL coordinator for PISD for the past 11 years. “There are so many events to choose from that every student can find something they’re interested in doing.”
For this year, because of COVID restrictions, UIL will be conducted this week on all five campuses, instead of one central location, and students will compete over a three-day period. The judges come together on the final day to judge.
Despite losing five days of preparation because of the winter weather last week, Mrs. Hughes said the contests will begin on schedule, and the students are ready.
“Winning takes a lot of practice for the students and coaches involved,” Mrs. Hughes said. “Students practice before school, after school and during Pride Time. And for some contests, they practice at home, because we can send the kids with a dictionary and a practice test.”
According to Mrs. Hughes, the benefits of students competing in UIL are endless.
“It builds self-confidence and makes students feel involved and important,” she said. “Students should consider being a part of the UIL team because it builds work ethic and develops discipline. It’s rewarding and it’s fun, and elementary UIL is just the beginning.”
Mrs. Hughes said students find their strengths through UIL.
“It’s amazing to watch kids who have never said a word in class, but they get in oral reading or storytelling and you can see a different person come out because they are really a performer inside waiting to come out,” she said. “My favorite contest is oral reading because I love watching kids become different characters, and I like the dramatics behind it.”
Not every student is an athlete, so academic UIL gives them an avenue for competition.
“I joined UIL because it’s fun,” said Smith 5th-grader Adeyanju Oluokun. “I’m not an athlete, but I’m really smart, so UIL gives me something to do.”
Students also like the other aspects of UIL competition.
“My favorite thing about UIL contests is the teamwork, and it’s fun,” said Jesus Guerrero, who is a Smith 5th-grader. “I like the content and subject areas.”
Smith UIL coach Eric Venters agreed with Jesus about the teamwork.
“I like the teamwork involved with UIL,” Mr. Venters said. “There may be a kid on a team who got 6th place, but because it was a team event, they helped the team win. I tell the kids all the time, we wouldn’t have gotten first without you. They can win as individuals or as teams.”
Aside from teamwork, students learn in other areas.
“This helps the kids see the other side of learning they don’t get in the classroom,” Mr. Venters said. “What we do in UIL is not typical of what we do in the classroom, and they learn to get along with different personality types.”
Or, students learn tricks that can help them in the classroom.
“For instance, Number Sense is all mental math,” he said. “When we practice, we teach them to do tricks with numbers they didn’t already know, and for chess and Number Sense, it’s all about strategy. We have to make them think and outmaneuver someone.”
Even though the contest pits all the Princeton elementary schools against each other, it is definitely considered a friendly rivalry.
“At the end of the day, all the kids will eventually end up together at one high school, so we aren’t upset when another school wins,” Mrs. Hughes said. “And, I would say our coaches have a friendly rivalry.”
Ultimately, UIL is rewarding for both the students and teachers.
“We are all here for the kids, so we want them to love it and keep doing it,” Mrs. Hughes said. “We enjoy seeing them grow and achieve more than they really think they can.”