‘Poetry Out Loud’ at EWHS

By Tom Phelan - Staff Writer
East Windsor - posted Thu., Feb. 17, 2011
EWHS English teacher Elisha May moderated the contest, and announced the participating students.
EWHS English teacher Elisha May moderated the contest, and announced the participating students.

After snow twice forced its postponement, East Windsor High School’s English Department finally conducted its ‘Poetry Out Loud’ contest at the school on Feb. 16. Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation contest that was launched across the country in 2006. This is the second year in which EWHS has participated.

Poetry Out Loud uses a pyramid structure for its contest. All students participated in a classroom Poetry Out Loud competition, and each English teacher’s four highest scoring contestants advanced to the school-wide competition.

The competitors in the EWHS contest were ninth-graders Victoria Caldon, Madison Carolus, Derec Morneault, John Olechnicki, Jennifer Piekos and Christian Tarr; 10th-graders Nicole Bowens, Justice Jones, Ryan McCarter, Zje'nyire Richardson and Aiyana Smith; 11th-graders Denaya Christopherson, Gala Harriman, Luis Gomba and Kianna Vargas; and 12th-graders Wayne Harrell, Sarah Kerby and Seth Miller.

Luis Gomba was the first-place winner of the school-wide competition, finishing with 241 out of a possible 282 points. He now advances to the state competition, which will take place March 16 at Southern Connecticut State University. The state-wide winner will receive a trip to Washington, D.C., for the national competition.

Ninth-grader Jennifer Piekos finished second, with score of 240. The third-place contestant was 10th-grader Justice Jones, with a score of 238.

Along with Gomba, Jones and Piekos, Wayne Harrell and Aiyana Smith advanced to round two of the evening’s competition.

Elisha May, who teaches English at EWHS, said before the contest that last year’s audience turnout for the event was outstanding. “More people came to this last year than any other academic program,” she said. As May expected, however, the audience size for this year’s recitation contest was considerably smaller – a victim of the snow-induced multiple postponements.

All students take part in the run-up to the contest in their English classes. They select the poetry they want to work with. “I was so shocked at which kids really took to it,” May said. “The kids who don’t seem to be interested in much else are sometimes the kids who take this and run with it.” She added, “It kind of awakens them.”

May said many students take it seriously, and it’s easy to see they are putting their tone and emotion into the poetry. “There are other kids who you know are going to be great in this, because they do drama,” she added.

Motivation to really compete in the poetry recitation contest is purely personal. “I don’t think they’re doing it for anything other than the fact that they like it,” May said. “None of these kids seem to be in it for the prize.” The Poetry Out Loud winners at EWHS received gift cards to Barnes & Noble.

After conducting successful pilot programs in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, the second phase of Poetry Out Loud was launched in high schools across America in the spring of 2006, with tens of thousands of students participating. Last year, nearly 325,000 students competed. Amber Rose Johnson, from Rhode Island, was named national champion in 2010.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with state arts agencies across the country to support the expansion of Poetry Out Loud, which encourages the nation's youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance. The program is meant to help students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about their literary heritage.

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