Poetry Takes Center Stage: NJ Teens Compete for the Championship Title

Students from across the state competed for the chance to represent New Jersey at the national Poetry Out Loud competition to be held in Washington DC.

Poetry Takes Center Stage: NJ Teens Compete for the Championship Title
Poetry Out Loud competition stage at the Count Basie Arts Center in Red Bank, New Jersey Photo Credit: Atlantic City Focus

High school students from across the state competed for the chance to become state champion and to represent New Jersey at the national Poetry Out Loud competition to be held in Washington, DC April 30-May 4. Competing on the national stage gives students a chance at winning prizes including a $20,000 college scholarship. The last step before that opportunity was the New Jersey state finals that took place March 14, at the Count Basie Arts Center in Red Bank. Twelve high school students completed three rounds of poetry recitation with eliminations occurring after each round.

At the culmination of the event, Lucas Wilson, a senior from Red Bank Regional High School in Red Bank, was named State Champion at the 2024 New Jersey Poetry Out Loud State Finals. Lucas could not be present to accept the award due to a prior commitment at Juilliard in New York City. Lucas will compete for the national Poetry Out Loud title from April 30th to May 4th in our nation’s capital. Amya Martinez, a senior from North Star Academy Washington Park in Newark, was named the State Runner-Up.

2024 New Jersey Poetry Out Loud Champion, Lucas Wilson. Photo Credit: Count Basie Center for the Arts
2024 New Jersey Poetry Out Loud State Runner-Up, Amya Martinez. Photo Credit: Count Basie Center for the Arts

Poetry Out Loud is a free national arts education program that encourages the study of great poetry by offering free educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition for high school students across the country. The program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. Poetry Out Loud is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation, and the state and jurisdictional arts agencies. The program starts in the classroom or school at the local level with an area organization. Winners then advance to a regional and/or state competition, and ultimately to the national finals. Awards and placements are determined solely by the judges’ scores based on the Poetry Out Loud Evaluation Criteria. One of the judges of the event, Jersey City Poet Laureate Rashad Wright, was tasked to ensure the students were reciting the poems they selected verbatim. “These students are much more skilled at oration than I was at their age so I am just extremely happy to see them have this platform,” Wright said as he described his thoughts on what it was like watching the students perform. 

Congratulations to all state finalists. They are:

Kailan Cass-Adams-Johnson, from Mainland Regional High School in Linwood

Nay’Quan Coriano, from Cumberland County Technical Education Center in Vineland

Gianna Escobar, from Union County Vo-tech High School in Scotch Plains

Michaela Giuliani, from Vineland High School in Vineland

Elicia Johnson, from South River High School in South River

Yumna Juha, from Montgomery High School in Skillman

Amya Martinez, from North Star Academy Washington Park in Newark

Sophia Padilla, from The Morris County School of Technology in Denville

Leah Seche, from Doane Academy in Burlington

Dhriti Somas, from Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan in Demarest

Nola Walker, from Henry Snyder High School in Jersey City

Lucas Wilson, from Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver

Many of these students spent weeks and months preparing for the competition. First-time contestant Michaela Giuliani from Vineland High School recalls starting in early January and encourages students to look into the annual program.

“It is a really good opportunity to express yourself, to get to feel comfortable in front of people," Giuliani said.

If you would like to learn more about the Poetry Out Loud program and how you can be involved, you can visit their website https://www.njpol.org/ for more information. 

(This story was produced as part of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University's South Jersey Information Equity Project fellowship and supported with funding from the Independence Public Media Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the NJ Civic Information Consortium.)


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