LUMBERPORT, W.Va. — A fourth grade teacher at Lumberport Elementary School is the winner of a Smart529 award, receiving $2,500 to be used at the school.

Kimberly Howell, an English/Language Arts teacher, has her students participate in the Smart529 program’s writing contest, submitting essays regarding what they want to be when they grow up.

“My lesson plan for this activity starts at the beginning of the year,” Howell said. “We read books about different occupations, and we go to Fairmont State University and to the West Virginia Air Center. We really focus on the students and them being able to write.”

This year, a student in Mrs. Howell’s class was also the recipient of the Smart529, earning $500 in a Smart529 college savings plan. She, along with other winners throughout the state, will be recognized at an awards ceremony in Charleston in September, where one lucky students will win the grand prize of $5,000 invested into a Smart529 account.

This year marks the eighth time a Lumberport Elementary School student has been a regional winner. But Howell is the first teacher, not only at Lumberport but all of Harrison County, to receive this distinction.

“It feels great. It feels really great,” she said. “I’m very honored, and I’m glad to know that the Smart529 committee approves of what I do and how I handle my class.”

But more important than the recognition is that Howell is instilling lifelong lessons in her students.

“It’s never too early to start students down the pathway to understanding what they want to be or figuring out what they want to be when they grow up, what education is involved, how they need to perform in school and just to understand that education is their ticket out of the poverty and generational welfare that they are living in now. Education is the key,” she said.

Many students who take part in the writing contest have proven that to be true.

“The winners so far are going on to higher education. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” West Virginia State Treasurer John Perdue said.

This is the tenth year for the writing contest, but Smart529 has been in place for the last 14 years.

Perdue’s office has followed many of the students to track what accomplishments they make after graduating from West Virginia’s schools.

“You know, some of them’s ended up being lawyers, some of them end up a doctor and teachers. A lot of them end up being teachers, and a lot of them grow up to be animologists and different fields that they really dreamed about,” he said. “It really encouraged them to work hard and obtain that goal of what they dreamed about.”

His office follows up with the schools each year, to teach more parents about the Smart529 program and to get more parents involved.

“It’s a $2.7 billion program. People don’t realize that, and it’s 47-some thousand West Virginia families invested in the program, and it continues to grow,” Perdue said. “It’s one of the best programs in the country, and I’m very proud of it.”

By getting those parents involved, it teaches children at a young age that their parents and grandparents are invested in their education and encourages them to work hard.

“What’s so exciting about it is we break so making cycles of the first child that is maybe going onto higher education because of this scholarship, and then the others will follow. That’s what’s so good about it,” Perdue said. “It helps change the opportunity in West Virginia for education because I really believe that’s what opens up the doors of opportunity and brings economic development to the state of West Virginia and jobs because we’ll have a good education and workforce that can compete for those jobs.”

Fairmont Catholic’s Vincent Cook and Ridgedale Elementary’s Braylee Ammons were also regional winners this year.