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Waynesboro, PA, Student Competes in Poetry Out Loud Contest

Eliana Sandy ’24 of Waynesboro, PA, represented Mercersburg Academy and placed as first runner-up in the 2022/23 Cultural Alliance Regional Poetry Out Loud contest.

Sandy was selected as the school representative through an open audition coordinated by faculty members Michele Poacelli P ’24, ’26, and Kelly Dowling P ’21, ’21, ’23.

“A lot of kids feel like poetry is scary. It’s cryptic. They don’t understand it,” said Poacelli, who is head of the English department and has served as director of the Writing Center since 2015. “And then you have experiences like Poetry Out Loud and Spoken Word, and the artists who came on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Those kinds of experiences open up poetry for students. They understand that they can have a real, personal connection to poetry or that poetry can be a vehicle for expression, to communicate messages that are important to them. That’s the value of a program like this, the value of this experience.”

Poetry Out Loud is a national arts education program that encourages the study of poetry by offering free educational materials and a recitation competition for high school students, according to the organization’s website, The program, which helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life, is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation, and the state and jurisdictional arts agencies.

For the last two years, the Poetry Out Loud competition has been virtual because of COVID-19 concerns, and will once again be virtual this year. Students were asked to prepare videos of their poem recitations.

The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts is collaborating with 14 partner organizations to administer virtual competitions throughout the commonwealth.

Sandy’s poem selections were “Free Radical” by Alison C. Rollins, “Mimesis” by Fady Joudah, and “A January Dandelion” by George Marion McClellan.  

She chose the poems from an approved list after what she called a “poem-searching spree.” 

“There were a lot we thought were good, but there were discussions: ‘Is it the right timing to read this poem? Am I the right person to read this poem? And does the poem spark enough interest and does it have enough contrasting elements with the other poems to create a fully rounded competition selection?’” Sandy said. “All three of the poems have something to love about them, and I’ve loved being able to work with them.”

The 2023 Pennsylvania Poetry Out Loud state champion will be announced March 13. The national finals will be held virtually May 8-10 from Washington, D.C.