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Local second grader wins place in academic program

Madelin Paez, a second grader at Pike County Elementary School in Brundidge, was chosen third runner up in the 2008 Pre-Teen Alabama Academic and Enrichment Program in Birmingham in August. Madelin is eligible to represent Alabama in the 2009 Pre-Teen America National Competition Baton Rouge, La. next summer.

Sixty-three contestants vied for the preteen title, which was based primarily on academic standards. Contestants had to be recommended to participate.

Madelin’s dad, Andre Paez, said the Alabama Enrichment Program is not a beauty pageant and contestants are accepted solely on their academic standing.

Although the program is weighted heavily toward academics, the scoring does include stage presentation.

“The judges asked us questions and we had to take a test, too,” Madelin said. “The test was easy. I knew all the answers.”

When Madelin was named one of the semi-finalists, she was “surprised and happy.”

“When I got runner up, that was very exciting,” she said, with a smile.

Very exciting and very unusual.

The preteen contestants ranged in age from seven to 11. Madelin is the only seven-year-old to place in the Alabama competition.

Madelin was awarded two trophies, one as a semi-finalist and the other as third runner-up plus a savings bond.

As exciting as the competition was and as proud as she is of the trophies, Madelin is equally excited about competing at nationals in July 2009.

“We’ll get to go back home,” she said, with a smile.

Madelin’s family makes its home in Brundidge but only since August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Paez family home and the homes of Madelin’s grandparents and her aunt and her family.

“I like living in Brundidge but I miss my home,” Madelin said. “I can remember that we lived close to the beach. We didn’t have to drive far to get there but we could walk to the beach from my grandmother’s house. I really liked that because I like the beach.”

Going back to the Gulf area will be a treat for Madelin and her family. Madelin can hardly wait.

“It’s going to be fun, too, being in the pageant,” she said. “There will be 200 girls in it from all over the United States. I like to go places and meet new people. It will be fun for all of us to go.”

Madelin’s dad, step mom, Amber, and grandmother, Alice Fowlkes, supported her in Birmingham and will be there when she takes the stage in Baton Rouge.

Madelin’s dad said she has adjusted well to her new home in Alabama.

“We all like it here,” he said. “Everyone has been nice and we feel a part of the town.”

Madelin has made a lot of friends at school and at her church, Brundidge United Methodist. She is not shy and finds it easy to talk to people.

“When I grow up, I want to be a counselor,” she said. “That’s somebody that talks to people and makes them feel better. So, that’s what I want to do.”