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May 25th, 2023 by WCBC Radio

State Treasurer Riley Moore today announced the 15 regional student winners and statewide teacher winner of this year’s SMART529 “When I Grow Up” essay contest.

Now in its 16th year, the annual essay contest asks students in kindergarten through fifth grades to write an essay about what they want to be when they grow up. Elementary school teachers can also participate by submitting an essay about how they would use the contest in the classroom to inspire their students. “The When I Grow Up essay contest is a fantastic, inspiring experience every year as we get to hear from thousands of children from across the state about what they dream of being when they grow up,” Treasurer Moore said. “This contest gives parents an opportunity to sit down with their kids and not only talk about their dreams but start planning for how they might achieve them.”

More than 3,000 students from across West Virginia participated in the contest. 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.

The winners are being announced just ahead of national 529 Day, an annual celebration on May 29 (5/29) that raises awareness for 529 college savings plans around the country. Each regional winner will receive $500 invested into a SMART529 account. An additional $4,500 will be awarded to a grand prize winner, who will be randomly selected during a reception and ceremony Sept. 15 at the Culture Center in Charleston.

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

The winners, their schools and their dream professions are:

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


Kindergarten through fifth grade teachers also had the opportunity to compete in the teacher portion of the essay contest.

This year’s winning teacher will receive a $2,500 cash prize.

2023 ‘When I Grow Up’ Statewide Teacher Winner:

·         Amanda Coon, 5th Grade, C.W. Shipley Elementary, Jefferson County


The winners, their families and school officials have been invited to an awards ceremony at the state Culture Center in Charleston on Sept. 15 to be officially recognized and have an opportunity to read their essays. The grand prize winner will then be randomly selected at the ceremony.

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