CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Over the last decade, the State Treasurer’s Office has handed out more than $200,000 in college savings to student and teacher winners of an annual essay contest.

Regional winners for the 10th Annual SMART529 “When I Grow Up” contest were announced at the state Culture Center Thursday.

Each of the 15 student winners read their essay to an audience before receiving $500 each to be put toward their SMART529 college savings fund.

State Treasurer John Perdue founded SMART529 to highlight the importance of saving for higher education.

“The younger we get these parents and grandparents saving for their children and grandchildren’s education, it’s going to make a huge difference in the state of West Virginia,” Perdue said.

This year, winners were selected from more than 3,000 entries. Over 28,000 entries have been submitted in the past 10 years.

Perdue said it means a lot to hear a student talk about their dreams and aspirations.

“It’s an exciting time for us to see these kids dreaming about what they want to be, the essay they wrote about and dreaming about going to college. It’s about making a difference in a kid’s education and growth in this state, so hopefully they’ll stay here,” he said.

In addition to the student winners, Rock Branch Elementary School teacher Lori Perry, of Putnam County, was awarded $2,500 cash for her essay about how she planned to teach students about saving for college.

The grande prize student winner, who was randomly drawn, received an additional $4,500 for college.

In all, the 2017 winners share nearly $20,000 in college savings.

The “When I Grow Up” contest is for students in grades K-5.

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