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Draper Journal

Summit Academy’s Speech and Poetry Festival gives students real-life applications

Nov 29, 2016 04:50PM ● By Julie Slama

Summit Academy students who compete in the school’s Speech and Poetry Festival spend about a month preparing for the annual contest. (Tyler Whittle/Summit Academy)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

With the 13th annual Summit Academy Speech and Poetry Festival slated for Nov. 16–17, students  spent weeks, months and years preparing for the contest.

“It’s a long-standing Summit tradition, since the inception of the school, that we host this festival,” Principal Tyler Whittle said. “It’s student-driven, so they’re invested in presenting what they’d like. The students are wanting to do a good job so they put forth the effort and are giving it their best shot.”

It begins with classroom competitions from which students are selected to compete on Summit’s stage under the spotlights using a microphone in front of judges. This year, former principal Bob Zentner will return to be a guest judge of the students’ recitations.

“It’s a big deal and we want to showcase their abilities. Every year, we have students who surprise us and overcome obstacles to win a ribbon,” Whittle said.

The seventh- and eighth-grade students compete in the speech festival with two choices — to present a dramatic monologue or to give a persuasive oratory. Both options are written by the students either in a theater class or in an English class.

“This allows our junior high student to showcase their writing ability as well as their speaking talent. By allowing them to research and write on a topic of their interest, that is approved by teachers, it allows them to be more independent in their thoughts,” he said.

Whittle said students’ oratory speeches vary from the value of homework to current social issues. The dramatic pieces can include props and gesturing, but he said the oratories are “very formal.”

In the elementary school, students regularly prepare poems for monthly classroom recitations. However, during early November, students have selected poems they would like to recite not only to their class, but possibly at the poetry portion of the annual festival. 

“There is no preapproved list; they just have to have teacher approval. We let them pick a poem that is appropriate for their age level and for third grade and up, one that fits into their one- to three-minute time length. Some are humorous and some are serious. There’s always a broad spectrum,” he said. 

In Whittle’s own house, his first- and fourth-grade children paged through poetry books before finding poems they liked. Then they worked with their mother in learning and reciting them.

“My kids typically spend 15 to 20 minutes each night practicing, or my daughter will recite it while my wife braids her hair. It’s a fun thing at my house. My kids like it and are pushing themselves to not only memorize the poems, but to understand what it means and to understand the language,” he said.

In addition to learning about poetry, Whittle said his daughter, like many, is gaining confidence through the festival.

“It’s a confidence-builder for the kids who are doing it. Two years ago, my daughter was selected as one of the finalists in the festival. She was randomly selected as speaker number 16. She had to boost her confidence to speak in front of her peers and also learned to manage her nerves while she waited for those in front of her to speak,” he said.

Students also gain skills in memorization, projection and public speaking, all of which not only help them through their education, but also in real life. Junior high students add in writing skills.

The panel of judges, which includes a timer and an accuracy-checker, have strict rules to review contestants. The presentation is judged on memorization, voice (enunciation, expression, projection), poise, and content (difficulty, appropriateness for grade level, time). 

“It’s definitely impressive to watch these kids strive to do their best. We set our expectations high and they are able to consistently meet it,” Whittle said.