Editor’s note: At the end of Wednesday’s debate, moderator Susan Page, USA Today Washington bureau chief, posed a question from Brecklynn Brown, an eighth-grader from Springville Junior High. Below are the questions submitted by students, including Brecklynn’s.

In anticipation of the vice presidential debate, the Utah Debate Commission worked with the Utah State Board of Education and business partner, Lucid Software, to create a curriculum for all K-12 students and held a statewide essay contest.

Students from all levels — from kindergarten to college — were invited to submit 300-word essays answering the question: “If you could ask the vice presidential candidates one question, what would you ask and why?”

More than 700 essays were submitted and judged by Utah Debate Commission, volunteers from the University of Utah and teachers throughout the state. Here are the winners in the four entry categories.

Victoria Peck, fifth grade, Midas Creek Elementary School

Grades K-5 winner

My name is Victoria Peck. I am 11 years old, and I have a home here in Utah. I have never moved from my house, and I have always gone to the same school. My dad has always had the same job as a teacher.

Victoria Peck, fifth grade, Midas Creek Elementary School

I have all the same friends since I was very young, and I love it. I have a place to call my own. In school I recently read a story called “Amelia’s Road.” It was about a little girl who was a migrant worker. She had to move from place to place during the harvest time. Her father had to move his family around to whatever crops were ready to be picked. In the story the girl wanted to have a place of her own, a school of her own, and friends of her own. Amelia could not have that because she did not stay in one place for very long.

Farmers in the United States need these migrant workers. I heard a story about a blueberry farmer that lived in the USA. He had migrant workers pick his blueberries. When COVID-19 hit, many of the migrant workers could not come to pick his blueberries. The farmer asked people in the United States to help him pick his blueberries but they said it was too much work. His crops rot without the migrant workers.

What will you do to help these migrant workers that do so much for our country? I have a home that love and have settled in. I want migrant worker children to have a home that they can settle in too. All children deserve to be safe and happy.

Brecklynn Brown, eighth grade, Springville Junior High

Grades 6-8 winner

When I watch the news all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans. When I watch the news all I see is citizen fighting against citizen. When I watch the news all I see are two candidates from opposing parties trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?

Brecklynn Brown, eighth grade, Springville Junior High

Our nation’s capital is setting a poor example of unity and respect. No matter who we are and what we stand for, we all want to be heard and we all want to be acknowledged, but no one wants to listen or understand the person on the other side of the line.

Nothing is going to change until someone breaks this trend of arguments and anger. Each citizen is accountable and each citizen has their agency to not allow our country to be divided by differing opinions. Your examples could make all the difference to bring us together. 

How is your presidency going to unite and heal our country?

Brooklyn Larsen, 10th grade, Cedar City High School

Grades 9-12 winner 

As a national student body, and a worldwide collective group of youth, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted us and our way of life. The youth of this country have struggled greatly with the closure of our educational system as well as the closure of extracurricular activities. There are in fact millions of cases of suicide, depression or some other form of mental issue since the beginning of the closure.

Brooklyn Larsen, 10th grade, Cedar City High School

Nearly half of all Americans have and continue to be affected mentally by the pandemic.

What do you believe the United States can do to reduce these high levels of anxiety and depression? How can we as a youth collective remain positive and happy when the pandemic is suspending in-person education systems as well as social aspects and opportunities?

In-person school generates an increase in emotional well-being for the youth, but not everyone has the freedom to attend given our current situation statewide and nationally.

Liz Moore, University of Utah

University undergraduate winner

I’m a first-generation college student from the working class. I’m in my mid-30s. I’ve been struggling to obtain an education while working full time to support myself for over 10 years. The pursuit of education has often been at odds with my health needs, and I’ve found myself having to make hard decisions between my health and my education because of the lack of resources available to me.

Liz Moore, University of Utah

I often hear of the extraordinary and inspirational stories of people, who come from similar backgrounds as mine, overcoming adversity to go on to get degrees and become doctors, lawyers, politicians even, but those stories are shared because of their rarity. They are the exception and not the rule. The stories that we don’t hear are the ones about any of the 89% of low-income first-generation college students that are still working on their degrees six years after they started school. I wasn’t able to find any verifiable statistics regarding how many go on to eventually receive their diploma. I assume that because there is no legitimate way to obtain such numbers as if the other students are anything like me, they will stubbornly pursue it until they die.

Growing up in America we are told that we all have an equal opportunity, but my experiences have taught me that those opportunities are only available once you are able to gain access to them through the paywall. It is a discouraging and demoralizing reality for countless citizens struggling to make a better life for themselves and their families.

I would like to ask the vice presidential candidates what their administrations are planning to do to not only encourage working-class and lower-income citizens to obtain an education, but if they have any plans to give them a leg-up‚ to help put them on a more equal footing with their peers from more affluent, traditionally educated backgrounds