Flagstaff Student Wins State-Wide Writing Competition

Flagstaff Student Wins State-Wide Writing Competition

Maya Rokhlenko, Editor and Reporter

Flagstaff seventh grader Maya Rokhlenko recently won the state-wide Future Problem Solvers (FPS) writing competition for the third year in a row. In FPS Scenario Writing, competitors are tasked to write a 1,500 word story (or scenario) about a chosen problem that is expected to grow in the future. Maya Rokhlenko chose the Digital Realities topic and ended up winning first overall in the state in the Middle Division (all Colorado competitors grades seven to nine). If you are interested in reading the scenario, it is below. 





Staying in The Better World for more than six (6) hours in a  twenty-four (24) hour span

may cause harm to relationships, harm mental or physical wellbeing, and/or result in death.


Click. The same message as always shows up in my mind. After that, the colors are more vibrant, and the greens and reds don’t seem to blur. My hair feels lighter on my neck, and it curls at the ends like mine never would in reality The Better World is just that: better. It’s calmer, brighter, more fun. I feel secure and never judged. It’s the greatest place I could imagine. 

Within seconds, I am in a large lavish classroom, a lavish and large room. The lesson today? The twenty twenties. It’s my  favorite topic as I frankly find it hilarious to learn about the  pure stupidity of mankind from the past

Alya, my favorite person, comes up to me, “Hiiii, HRU?” 

I smile. My bubbliness is matched by hers. “Good,” I say. Alya and I laugh about the crazy twenty-twentians and the hours fly by. After our lesson, we goof off  in the cafe and hang out in an epic park. I conjure ice cream on command, turn around to find a playground that wasn’t there before standing there, just as I had wished it would be. Are we fifteen? Yeah, but whatever. We’re having fun, isn’t that what is most important? But all too soon, the notification flashes through my body. It’s not like I can see it, but I can feel it. A specific shock, warning me that I’ve been here for six hours. “Bye,” I tell Alya. “Tomorrow.” Click.


Samina stands by her bed. A look of pure boredom and exhaustion covers her face. She drops into the bed and falls asleep. 

Soon, Samina wakes in a flurry; heavy breathing, doubled over in tears. The crazy look in her eyes is as though there is an earthquake, a battle happening inside her mind. The whole room shakes as she rocks back and forth on her bed, her pajama pants slowly soaking in tears. 

After a while of this, something seems to change in her mind, and she scrambles across the room searching for something. She finds it, and sighs in relief. Her arms lift to her head and she falls back into her bed. Click. 


Click. Today is going to be great, oh I can feel it. I feel like I’ve unlocked a layer of new knowledge. The square root of ninety-nine? Nine point nine five. What age did the brain stop developing in the twenty twenties? Twenty five. What is a brain freeze? Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. 

Alya pops up next to me. “COVID!” she yells. I jump up, giggling as I push her away from me smiling. She falls gently in the grass… and hits her head on a rock. For a second, she lies there, and then in the blink of an eye, she is back on her feet smiling like nothing happened at all. We prance off, as though there are no cares in the world. I love this. Click. 


Samina stands at the sink. She blinks and hurls. Big, ugly, violent, vomit. Something seems wrong. She heads to the fridge and pours a glass of water. She stands, leaning against the wall. Slowly, she slides down to the floor. The glass is by her foot and her head is in her knees. There’s a slight shake to her shoulder. I wonder what’s up. I’m far too scared to ask. After a minute or two or ten, she finally stands. The whole time I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off of her. The sadness knocks the breath out of me. But I feel frozen, I feel useless, and she feels hopeless. I don’t know what to do. The Better World is so simple. Clear right and wrong, clear good and bad. Clear, easy decisions. Guaranteed good times. But through the grime covered windows, one sees a different landscape. Not the emerald skies, not the rich grass that creates the softest of footing for my feet, as if you’re walking on clouds. Instead, in this reality, I see gray sky and the puke green grass that would crunch under your feet like disgusting old autumn leaves. 

Samina stands, and she goes to her living room. I can practically feel the puffiness of her eyes and cheeks. 

Samina stands and walks over to the worn, brown, overstuffed chair and sighs as if the weight of the world is on her shoulders. Her unsteady breathing unsettles me. She looks at the door. Down at her feet. Something seems wrong. 

Samina is a mystery to me. Nobody knows her. Who she is, where she comes from. Warm, wet, silent tears run down her face. They’re salty on her lips. For a moment, I taste them, too. The salt on her thin, dry lips. The tears run down her face. I lick my lips. Purse them. I can’t taste the salt. 

Eventually, she sighs and finally walks slowly to her room. She grabs something from the bedside table and falls back in her bed. Click.


Click. Oh, today’s lesson is fascinating. Twenty-twenties mental health. Alya and I sit in the glass classroom, with the bird chirps audible through the walls. Alya and I know all of this, of course. But it’s fun, ain’t it? It’s crazy how… broken so many of those people were. My personal favorite? DID- Dissociative Identity Disorder. 

“Dissociative Identity Disorder,” I recite to Alya, “is a mental disorder. It is classified by a person having two or more separate personalities that are often very, very different from one another. Up to possibly even one-hundred separate identities. Crazy, right? Anyway, it will often cause the person to act in a way that their other identity would not act, and they often develop in their early years and stay with them throughout their lifetime. In a way, it’s like being a different person in different situations. A different person at work and home. A different person online and off. Fascinating.”

Soon, Alya and I leave the classroom to the cafe we love so much. From there, to the park, where we get a dog to play with. 

Then, suddenly, Alya flashes. She reaches for me with terror in her eyes, and then she disappears. 

At first, I don’t have an issue. I have fun on my own. But when she doesn’t come back, I start to worry. What am I supposed to do without her? I’m scared. She’s my person, my only person. What happened? Click. 



The Better World was an accident, you know. Charles Aalan Sutherland. It was a joke, really. Charles went to such an old-fashioned school that it still had Science Fairs. Charles was obsessed with the tiny hologram-producers that attached to your arm. What did they call those again? Right, computers. Charles’s many friends would often joke that his mind is on the computer all day, so why don’t he just put the darn thing in his head. To Charles, though, this wasn’t a joke. It was a winning Science Fair project. He created multiple receivers and projects that when put into the brain would send messages throughout the body. A receiver for The Prefrontal Region improves logic, analytical thinking, and gives the ability to solve complex problems. The Parietal Lobe got a sensor, too, greatly heightening senses. To add to that, there are the slim glasses that project The Better World, really pulling it all together. At some point, it had strongly resembled the world Charles lived in himself. But as time went by, The Better World became more and more of a utopia, one vastly different from the horrid reality. Though Charles’ friends still thought of it as a joke, soon enough Charles Aalan Sutherland was a household name, and nearly every brain had the sensors. 

Inspiring, right? This man single handedly changed the world, and led to what many people believe to be the peak of humanity. But me? Do I think it changed the world for the better? No. No. No. No.

No. It broke me. Because as I watch Samina sitting on one of those damn brown overstuffed chairs, as I watch her leg shake, I cry. Because Samina is so broken. She doesn’t know herself, doesn’t know any friends that aren’t made up or imagined or fake. She has nobody. She escapes to The Better World, she is there hours more than she should be, then she would be told to be if there was anybody who cared enough to tell her to stop.

It broke me. 

Because I am Samina. 

And I am broken into pieces, like the glasses to The Better World shattered on the ground by the bedside table. 

I am broken, far worse than I thought imaginable. All because of The “Better” World.




Cites: https://www.competitionsciences.org/competitions/future-problem-solving-program/