Plain English speaking and writing awards

Ashley Reynolds and Fanulla Sapotuizis

Government high school students have swept the opposition aside to claim two prestigious state plain English speaking and writing awards.

Year 12 students Fanulla Sapotuizis, from Prairiewood High School, and Ashley Reynolds, from Coonabarabran High School, claimed this year's NSW Plain English Speaking Award and the Young Writer of the Year Award respectively.

Both students claimed their awards - sponsored by The Sydney Morning Herald - at events held recently in Sydney.

For Fanulla, the award recognised her journey from a non-English speaker when she moved to Australia at the age of seven from Greece.

She is only the second student from Western Sydney in the 34-year history of the competition to win the state final.

Prairiewood High principal John Pickering said: "Her win is a positive story about schools and students in this region, reinforcing the message that you can achieve anything if you work hard and strive to reach your goals."

As part of the competition Fanulla had to deliver an eight-minute speech. Her talk was inspired by acclaimed writer David Malouf's idea that the Australian veranda has historically been a site of meeting and negotiation.

Drawing on her experiences as an immigrant, Fanulla argued off-shore detention centres were Australia's symbolic verandas.

 "I couldn't speak a word of English ... and if I had been placed on the veranda my potential to be an effective citizen would have been greatly diminished," she said in her speech.

Fanulla was on hand to celebrate Ashley's Young Writer of the Year Award, and orated her winning short story The River That Wasn't Ours (subsequently published in the Herald's Spectrum section).

The emotive story tells of Ashley's relationship with the Castlereagh River, which runs through her town. The river was where she played with her friends during her summer holidays but also the place that claimed a friend's life during a recent flood.

"The river, living in a small country town, it's a really big part of our life. It affects not only where we have fun but also is a place of danger," Ashley told Side by Side.

"So I decided to combine the two ideas to show the difference in perception of place that can occur through the events that happened there."

Mary Doolan, Ashley's teacher and head teacher English at Coonabarabran High School, said Ashley's win in the competition, which is in its 26th year attracted 1,000 entries, showed "there is no dearth of excellence in public education".

"I think success breeds success," Ms Doolan said. "Sometimes students from the country think they can't compete with their city counterparts so when you have a country student compete at a state level and achieve, it gives them greater confidence."

Photos supplied by Fairfax Media and Andrew Lasky.

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