- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) - If State Treasurer Denise Nappier were looking for a poster child for her CHET Dream Big 2015 competition, she could look no further than to Skyla Mcelhattan, a third-grader at Vance Village Elementary School.

CHET stands for Connecticut Higher Education Trust, a tax-advantaged, low-cost savings program specifically designed to help families save for future college costs.

Mcelhattan, who won $500 in 2014 in the statewide competition, is interested in dinosaurs and wants to become a paleontologist after college.

On Wednesday, Nappier kicked off the 2015 annual competition while 500 elementary students at Vance School cheered. Vance was the state’s the top participating school in 2014 with 239 students.

Nappier, who was accompanied by Vance Principal Sarah Harris, WFSB-TV personality Scot Haney and New Britain School Superintendent Kelt Cooper, invited students from kindergarten to eighth grade to participate in this year’s competition. Students can win one of 84 grade-level prizes, four as high as $1,000. Prize money goes into the student’s college savings plan.

The competition asks Connecticut students to share their dreams about life after college in a drawing or essay for a chance to win a CHET 529 college savings account contribution; it also promotes the importance of saving for college.

Previously available for students in grades K to 5, the competition was expanded this year to include grades 6 through 8. A total of $44,000 in CHET account contributions will be awarded to students in May and $4,000 to eight schools.

Haney told how, through study and hard work, he progressed from elementary school to college and announced, “Today is your big day. Ms. Nappier will tell you how to make your dreams come true.” The treasurer praised Vance students for their participation and spirit, repeatedly calling them “awesome.” She explained that her job is to save state money and make it grow for more than 100,000 families in the CHET program.

Nappier asked how many students received iPads or tablets as presents because they earned good grades; about 90 percent raised their hands. She encouraged them to keep up the good work.

Posted on the Vance cafeteria walls, Harris said, were written goals of Vance students after graduating from college. Stephanie Vargas wrote she wants to be “a hair stylist or to be a veterinarian and be a singer.”

Cooper used the analogy of Jack and the Beanstalk in his remarks. But rather than planting a bean, students, he said, need to save their dollars.

“Anything we can do to prepare young people for the reality coming down the road is important,” Cooper told The Herald. “When you reach that age when you’re pushing for college, I wonder how many parents of college-bound kids are prepared for that devastating sticker price. It’s up to us to prepare parents and students so it will soften the impact.”

Dream Big! is sponsored by CHET, the State Treasurer’s Office and TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing Inc., a financial services organization.

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