Every year, all students at Malden High School participate in Poetry Out Loud in hopes to move on to the semi-finals, or possibly even the final round. Poetry Out Loud is a national competition for high school students, and has been a tradition at MHS since 2006. Out of all of the schools participating, MHS is the only school where each student is required to participate in Poetry Out Loud.
Each student must choose and recite a poem, and is scored on their presentation and ability to memorize the poem. Students are also prompted throughout the preparation period to look more deeply into the poem and to try and get a better understanding of what the poet was trying to convey. But beyond the usual English-esque work, it is an opportunity for students to grow personally.
Jennifer Clapp, one of the staple English teachers in the department, made a point when speaking about her thoughts on Poetry Out Loud to focus quite heavily on the growth that students can see over their time participating. Like the saying goes, Poetry Out Loud is meant for the journey rather than the destination and for the improvements that students can see within themselves after 4 years of participating.
This improvement in such areas as public speaking and confidence can mean a big difference for all students, especially those who have difficulty with those beforehand. As Clapp stated, “any amount of steps is an achievement” when walking down what can often times be a difficult and untravelled road. Still, students must focus on the actual assignment in the long run as Poetry Out Loud is normally counted as quite a significant grade in English classes.
The culmination of the practice and perfection of student’s poems are the classroom competitions which usually take place the week before winter break in December. During that time, all students present their poems to their classes and are graded based on accuracy, presentation, and performance. After this, a winner is picked from each period, which is the student with the highest score for their presentation.
These students then meet again in the following weeks for period-wide competitions. During these period-wide competitions, classes of students meet in the auditorium to watch as their friends vie for the top spots from the period in hopes of moving on to the school finals and beyond. Once their poems begin, the orange and purple walls of the Jenkins Auditorium transform into whatever landscape their poem depicts.
However, some students tend to write off Poetry Out Loud, and instead of trying to take advantage of the opportunity that it provides, they squander it. While students have the right to do however much they want with Poetry Out Loud, Clapp noted that aside from the grades, “[students] will be surprised by its uses in the future,” an important point to consider and just another reason to try one’s hardest when preparing for it.
Even with the weeks of preparation, many students, even those dedicated to doing their best, admit that when the time comes to stand in front of the class or the period, the nerves can become too great to bear and mistakes can appear where there were none before. In the end, the most important part of the process is what each person participating learns from it themselves, not the grade that they get at the end.
With the main portion of the competition over for the year for those who didn’t move on to the school finals, Poetry Out Loud may be falling to the wayside for many students, but hopefully each person who participated, no matter their grade or dedication to success in the competition, was able to get something meaningful out of this important process and will realize the benefits that it comes with in the future.