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PA Cyber junior wins state, national Grange honors

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PA Cyber Student Feature

When Mark and Lurae Benzio enrolled their daughters Anna and Sara in PA Cyber Charter School seven years ago, they looked around their community for ways to keep the girls socially engaged.

They found the Grange - a fraternal organization for farm and other rural families that dates back to 1867 - and its organization for young people, the Junior Grange.

Once a very shy girl, Anna Benzio, 15, now poised and self-assured, has climbed the rungs in Junior Grange to the very top of the ladder. This past summer, she achieved the highest state honor for girls, the title of Pennsylvania State Junior Grange Princess for 2014-15.

Representing her state in November at the National Grange Convention in Sandusky, Ohio, Anna received the highest national honor given to Junior Grange members: the Super JG Award.

The once-shy girl had no problem standing up at the state Grange convention and addressing the delegates, her mom said.

“This year has been a whirlwind of excitement and opportunities for Anna,” said Lurae.

It so happened that a PA Cyber blended classroom teacher, Samantha Gourley, is on a state Grange committee that oversees Junior Grange activities. She has been in a unique position to guide and advise Anna as she grew within the organization.

In order to win these honors, Anna had to recite and understand much from Grange ritual and history, much of it in the arcane language of a century and a half ago.

“She was interviewed by judges, did public speaking, and answered impromptu questions from an audience,” said Stacy Bruker, public relations director for the Pennsylvania State Grange. “You are meeting new people all the time. It really forces you out of your shell.”

Choosing PA Cyber
The Benzios chose PA Cyber for Anna and Sara in fourth and third grades, respectively, because they were disappointed with what they perceived as a lack of academic challenge for the girls in classes at their local public school.

But, Lurae said, “Like other parents who enroll their children in cyber school, we wondered if they would get enough proper socialization.”

The family found an answer when they joined the Fairview Grange near their home, which has an active Junior Grange program.

“PA Cyber was a perfect fit for us, and we found the Grange to be a wonderful family organization,” she said.

“Anna was shy at first and didn’t share much during the meetings,” Lurae recalls. “When Anna attended her first Beaver County Junior Grange Camp, she struggled with some of the structure of the week and had anxiety over ‘what happens next?’”

It didn’t take Anna long to warm up to the dynamics of the Junior Grange and embrace all that it offers. She held offices, worked on committees, performed community service, and made new and lasting friendships.

“Anna has matured in her Grange family and is no longer that shy little girl at a meeting,” her mom said.

Crowned state princess
Stacy Bruker said Anna “really stepped up and helped” at the state Junior Grange camp held in July near State College, Pa.

With the blessing of her parents, Anna undertook the task of running for, and won, the position of Pennsylvania State Junior Grange Princess at camp, becoming the first state princess from western Pennsylvania in many years.

A boy from Berks County, Isaac Mengel, was chosen as State Junior Grange Prince.

“Anna is always willing to help out. We look to the prince and princess for leadership, and for role models for the younger children,” Bruker said.

Since July, Anna has attended the annual Grange Family Festival, has been honored at both the Hookstown and Big Knob Fairs, has attended local Grange meetings to promote the Junior Grange programs, helped in the Grange booth at Ag Progress Days, attended both the state and national Grange conventions, and assisted at the local Farm City Banquet.

Next for Anna
One of Anna’s goals during her year as state princess is to bring awareness of the Grange and Junior Grange program to other young people, including fellow students at PA Cyber.

“The Grange organization is one where the whole family can be involved and help with community service projects, educational workshops, social time and fun. There are local and statewide contests such as art, photography, public speaking, talent and more to participate in,” she said.

Anna and Isaac will meet up again in January for the Pennsylvania Farm Show, and then again in June for the State Royalty trip to Harrisburg where they will tour the Capitol and meet their state legislators and officials before heading to Hersheypark for some fun.

Anna’s next step in her Grange journey is to join the Grange Youth program for ages 14-23. She hopes to one day become the Grange State Youth Ambassador and maybe even the National Youth Ambassador. Personal growth, leadership and responsibility are just a few of the lessons to be gained in the program, along with opportunities to hold state office positions and work on committees.

One of the young people looking up to Anna is her sister Sara, who has also grown as a person in Junior Grange.

Might she follow in her sister’s footsteps? Well, the path is there for her, and well-blazed.

A few days ago, their mom Lurae got a call from the State Grange Master/President, asking her to be the next state director for the Junior Grange Program. She accepted, and will begin her duties immediately.

“This is quite an honor for me. I’m excited to start in my position with my daughter at my side as state princess,” Lurae said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON PA CYBER CHARTER SCHOOL, VISIT WWW.PACYBER.ORG.

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