As one of the judges of the Highland Park ISD Elementary Poetry School Writing Contest, I have the pleasure to read the poems of the district’s burgeoning writers.
The contest, a collaborative extension of HP Litfest, draws submissions from the five elementary schools with winners selected by high school students and the winning poems illustrated by middle school art students.
Working from the same prompt (this year a poem titled For Keeps by Joy Harjo), student poets addressed such topics as historical events, sibling relationships, and even a potato with youthful senses of humor, sentimentality, and timing that make judging one of the distinct joys of my school year.
When I met these winning writers – one from each elementary school – I found them just as charming as their poems suggested they might be.
Emma August, a Boone Elementary third grader, met me in a happy dress patterned with puppies and a gentle confidence. Her poem, Paradise, features four stanzas of emphatic rhymes, her favorite part about poetry. Emma loves writing and is reading Becoming Michelle Obama Adapted for Young Readers. As for her perspective on inspiration, it is perfectly summed up in the final lines of her cheery poem: “Soon you will see/that your imagination can take you anywhere you wish to be.”
Hyer Elementary fourth grader Gianna Holdridge is a true Renaissance student. Her Hopes of Fort McHenry was inspired by her music class where she learned about the origins of the Star-Spangled Banner. She cited a litany of interests: writing, reading, swimming, animals, and acting. She confided that the key to successful writing is to “Just go with what is right. . .let your mind flow.”
Reese Browning, an Armstrong third grader, sat with a smile that shone even through her rainbow tie-dye mask and a wristful of scrunchies. Her poem, Rat, tells the origin of a clay rat she once sculpted in art class. Reese serves as a perfect example of finding inspiration in unexpected places, and her unnamed rat still sits prominently on her desk. She hopes to become an actress one day.
Aspiring writer and University Park third grader, Blaire Inabnett produced an authentic poem about her little sister titled Sister. She imparted wise words about sibling relationships: “We’re best friends, and we may fight, but we always make up . . .We just love each other a lot.” Blaire loves writing anything from nonfiction to fiction to poetry.
My final interview was with Jing Wang, a soft-spoken Bradfield third grader with a vast imagination. Her advice to young poets is to “write about something you enjoy.” Her poem, Nighttime, resonates with night owls everywhere as a ballad to the moon, stars, and some fantastical dreams about riding dragons.
This annual contest fosters the talents of young writers and, by involving students districtwide, encourages a sense of community united around literature and creativity. Meeting the awardees and reading all of the submissions assured me that HPISD takes seriously the nurturing of literary talent.
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