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Spooky Tales: Gifted and Talented program hosts ninth annual scary story contest

With tales of vampires, ghosts and spooky houses, the Cañon City School District's Gifted and Talented program hosted its ninth annual scary story night Thursday at Harrison K-8 School.

As a crowd sat in a dimly lit room filled with Halloween decorations, 11 finalists of the program's scary story writing contest read their work out loud. The students, split up into four age divisions — kindergarten through eighth grade, also were awarded prizes for honorable mentions and first and second place.

"If we can foster that love of writing, we can do anything with them," said Shyla Swisher, the district's gifted and talented coordinator.

Swisher said she took over the contest seven years ago. Throughout the years, she's seen some of the same young writers repeatedly win the contest.

Cañon City Middle School student Brooke Watley has been a finalist in the contest for a few years, Swisher said. On Wednesday, she took second place in her division.

"It's neat to see that she's continuing her love of writing," she said.

And for students who wanted to get the top prize, the competition was steep — the program received 163 voluntary entries this year, including from students who don't belong to the program.

"We had a lot of kids that aren't in our program," she said. "You know, it helps us find other kids, too."

The contest is always open to the entire school district, Swisher said, though the gifted and talented classes integrated suspenseful writing into their curriculum for this project.

"In the gifted and talented department, all of the classrooms went through the writing process and we used this as a lesson plan," she said.

To comb through the 163 entries, Swisher said the program had help from the honors English classes at Cañon City High School, who chose the winners.

"It's nice not to have that responsibility," Swisher joked.

She also credited the Cup and Cone, which donated prizes to the winners, and KRLN Radio, which plans to broadcast the stories, for their help.

Additionally, she said, retired teacher Pauline Carochi taught a writer's workshop at CCMS before the writing began.

"That was really helpful," she said. "Three of our finalists were from CCMS so that really paid off."

One of those CCMS finalists ended up winning his age division.

Julian Unpingco, a seventh-grader, won the top prize for his story, "Temptation," which takes readers through a man's afterlife after a gruesome death.

Upingco said he wanted to create a twist on more traditional scary stories.

"I've always heard things in scary stories that heaven is just a bright light," he said. "And I just thought, 'What if you're trying to get to that bright light and you just get lost on the way?'"

In terms of winning, Unpingco said, "I'm super excited, and I can't wait to do it again next year."

Scary story contest winners

The winners of the Cañon City School District's scary story contest will be published in Saturday's Daily Record.

Kindergarten through first grade:

Winner - Broxton Elliott

Second place - Henry Sprenger

Honorable mention - Callie Kilpatrick

Second through third grade:

Winner - Quinton Myers

Second place - Addison Quakenbush

Honorable mention - Keylee Moore

Fourth grade through fifth grade:

Winner - Lilly Burton

Second place - Olivia Hale-Coulson

Honorable mention - Kellee Hale

Sixth grade through eighth grade:

Winner - Julian Unpingco

Second place - Brooke Watley

Honorable mention - Connor Jordan

Sara Knuth: 719-276-7644,