Thirty-six years ago, John Kendall introduced the idea of a writing contest. Since that time the contest has survived the vicissitudes of changing mandates and shifting emphasis in the classroom.
Michele Marotta has helped the contest to grow from the days of hard copies mailed to judges to an online system that aims to improve both the submission and the judging process. She has been at the helm for over ten years.
NJCTE firmly believes that the contest is about the process and thus aims to recognize at least one writer from every school that submits at least three entries. NJCTE also believes that the classroom teacher is the most important judge in the process. Each teacher may choose and submit the 10 best entries per category. Any entries beyond the designated number are disqualified based on the submission time stamp.
This year, NJCTE received a total of 309 qualified entries from 40 schools. New schools participating this year included Irvington High School, Calvary Academy, Newark Tech and Trenton Central High School. Beth Ann Bates, as Judge Liaison, reached out to judges to update their contact information. Curators Kristen Angelo (Essay), Karen Davidson, (Poetry), and Kathy Webber (Short Story) distributed the entries to judges electronically.
Our prompt this year asked students to reflect on an experience of race, ethnicity, class, religion or gender enlightenment that was significant for them. Once again the prompt was popular and teachers asked me to raise or waive the upper limit of how many students a teacher might sponsor so that more students might submit the essays they had written in response to our prompt. Unfortunately, we continue to struggle with a shortage of judges. In addition, we prefer to discourage teachers from sending us an entire set of class assigned essays.
Roberto Garcia, the guest author at the Award Reception whose poetry combines technical skill and linguistic colloquialism, encouraged the student winners to follow his example and change the question faced by all who seriously consider pursuing writing as a career from “How can I make money and write?” to “How can I write? I will make money.” He chose the writing life over a career as a lawyer and has not regretted his decision. Roberto also emphasized the key role writers play in challenging the status quo and bringing a human focus to social challenges we face.
Maressa Park, a senior at Mary Help of Christians Academy, commented that she wished she could still participate in the NJCTE Writing Contest as a college student. Honored for 3 straight years for her poetry and essays, she praised the dramatic performance of the Union Catholic Forensic Team and the high quality of the guest authors.
Kathleen Webber who teaches at Union Catholic High School has stated, “I have enjoyed being a curator for the short story entries, and the best part of the contest is meeting the student authors at the reception. I always am so impressed with the winning short stories when I read them, and I love talking to the students who wrote those stories and hearing about how they were inspired by our prompt or their life experiences.”
Union Catholic High School has been a steady supporter of the contest and under host Julius Gottilla has provided a venue for the celebration. Eleven years ago a dozen attendees met in the library and listened to Peter Murphy read his work and talk about his writing process. Now 60 or more gather every April for this true celebration of Poetry Month.Photos by Susan Reese
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English