Miss Nevada back in the classroom

Christina O'Neil's defeat in the Miss America Pageant turned out to be a big win for students at Empire Elementary School who got their teacher back.

"She's like my favorite music teacher ever," said Jasmine Overli, 10.

And 10-year-old MacKenzie Trotter admitted he wasn't rooting for his teacher in last week's pageant.

"I kind of wanted her not to win because I wanted her her to come back," he said. "Even though our substitute, Mr. Heath, was cool."

O'Neil, who returned to flowers and a welcome-home banner in her classroom, didn't perceive it as a loss, either.

"I had the time of my life," she said. "It was absolutely fantastic. The memories are priceless. And it's good to be back with the kids."

O'Neil captured the Miss Nevada crown, competing as Miss Gold Country, a regional pageant in Gardnerville.

After competing at the national level, contestants are no longer eligible to participate in the Miss America Pageant Organization.

Although O'Neil could compete in a variety of other pageant organizations, she has decided to hang up her tiara.

"I am completely through with pageantry," she said. "It was such an awesome experience I wouldn't want to take it anywhere else. Miss America's unlike any other pageant system in the world -- it's like a family."

Although O'Neil came home without the crown, she received $5,000 in scholarship money and an award from President Bush for her work in community service.

In addition, she brought back a bundle of memories and stories for her students back home.

"It's something I wanted to share with them," she said. "They've been so excited."

The highlight of the trip, she said, was meeting with Nevada's Congressional delegates in Washington, D.C., where she discussed her platform to raise awareness about teen-dating violence.

She will spend the remainder of the year working with local and state officials to promote her platform, in addition to her duties in the classroom.

After her reign as Miss Nevada, she plans to stay in the area.

"This is where I was born, and this is where I was raised, and this is where I plan to stay."


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