NJCTE Honors High School Writing Contest Award Winners

To help forget the incessant rain we’ve experienced so far this spring, let’s re-visit the NJCTE 2019 High School Writing Contest Award Reception. We honored over 20 young authors at this event, which was held on a rare, sunny day, on April 12, 2019, at Union Catholic High School.

Julius Gottilla, former NJCTE Executive Board Member, opened the event and acted as host. He also coached the readers.

50-60 students, parents, teachers, and judges enjoyed refreshments and listened to Union Catholic students dramatically interpret excerpts from the winning works.

Michele Marotta presented the awards to the Poetry, Personal Essay, and Short Story Winners.

njcteblog8David Messineo, an NJ literary magazine editor, poet and historian, ended the program with a reading of selected poems from his eight published volumes. His emphasis on forgotten history and neglected American social groups was timely and thought provoking!

NJCTE Honors High School Writing Contest Award Winners

NJCTE 2019 High School Writing Contest Winners Announced

by Michele Marotta
NJCTE 2019 High School Writing Contest Director

It is my privilege to announce the NJCTE 2019 High School Writing Contest Winners. These are the students who have infused such imagination, insight, genuineness, color, precision of idea, humor and drama into their poems, essays and short stories that their words convinced at least four different judges to award them top scores. (Click here or the link above to see the list of award winners, their schools, sponsoring teachers, and the titles of the winning pieces.)

I am often asked, “How many schools participated in the contest? How many entries were submitted? How many poems, essays and short stories received top awards?” It’s a frustrating paradox that we require the context of numbers and quotas in order to assign a value to the achievement of winning a literary prize.

The same is not true of athletics. A 100-yard sprinter could compete against one other athlete or even against herself, and if the time she ran broke the World Record, her achievement would be recognized immediately. Distinction in using the English language is not so easily measured.

If Abraham Lincoln had submitted “The Gettysburg Address” to a writing contest and had won the gold medal, would it matter how many entries were in the competition? Of course, Abraham Lincoln’s greatness as a writer emerged in the context of the demands of many difficult situations he encountered as President during a time of war. However, he had honed his ability with words through using the English language in many more mundane activities earlier in his life. Our writing contest provides students with another opportunity to sharpen their language skills and prepare for greater demands on them as writers in the future.

Our judges, active or retired English educators, are up to the task of helping students grow as writers in this way. They are characterized by the multi-faceted intellectual gifts they bring to their reading of the entries we receive. They include among their number a sizable percentage of college professors, heads of English Departments, and even a high school principal or two. Many are published poets, or essayists themselves and appreciate any opportunity to grapple with the many layers of the English language inside and outside of the classroom. Above all, they understand the power of the written word and desire students to gain more perfect control of this essential tool.

As for the special set of English educators on our Writing Contest Committee, who sign up for more demanding roles, such as Genre Curator or Judge Liaison, they almost invariably experience a great boost in their educational careers. That is because they responded to a literary challenge beyond the classroom by helping run this contest and trying to put the interest of the students first. However, their value far exceeds any of the career “recognitions” they receive.

Thus, rather than demand quotas and numbers to assess how worthwhile it is to be recognized as a winner of the NJCTE High School Writing Contest, please urge more students you know to participate in our contest.

Most importantly, come to our Annual Award Reception and hear the words of our top medal winners performed by the Union Catholic High School Forensics Club. The event will be held on Thursday, April 11, 2019, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, NJ. David Messineo, a published NJ poet and literary magazine publisher, will offer remarks at the end of the event. This event is free and open to all NJCTE members.

NJCTE 2019 High School Writing Contest Winners Announced

Judging Season for the NJCTE High School Writing Contest Begins

by Michele Marotta

It’s a time of expectation at the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English. The annual high school writing contest has entered the judging phase when hundreds of entries from around the state are read attentively by scores of skilled judges. Students wait to see if their poem, short story, or essay has spoken its personal truth with the genuineness, clarity, and originality that will earn the top prize. Close to 250 entries were submitted this year from around the state in response to our question, “What effect has illusion had on your life?” You can almost hear the bated breath.

Thursday, April 11, marks the date of the NJCTE HS Writing Award Reception to be held at Union Catholic High School, in Scotch Plains, NJ, when the winners of our contest are recognized. Not only are they recognized, they are celebrated by the Union Catholic Forensics Team, which performs dramatic excerpts of the winning poems, stories, and essays. A professional New Jersey author also attends as a guest speaker and provides insights into the writing life. This event is open to all NJCTE members and has proven to be one of the highlights of the NJCTE calendar, so please mark the date.

The only more exciting time for me is when our contest writing prompt is first posted on our website, njcte.org, and I imagine that the next Stephen Douglas, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, or Stephen King will submit an entry and begin their writing career. For an English Language Arts teacher, like me, nothing beats helping students find their writing voice and follow in the footsteps of authors whose literary works reflect or have had an impact on so many lives.

The writer who spoke to my situation grew up in Victorian England in the 1820s. Before I read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, I didn’t realize that I, like Pip, his young protagonist, lived with a foot in two different worlds. Like Pip, my parents were working-class people: my father, a blue-collar brake shoe man, and my stepmother, a maid who had grown up on a farm in Canada with a dozen siblings, and my natural mother deceased before I had the chance to know her. My home life revolved around household chores, school tests, and burgers out at Roy Rogers. Mirroring Pip again, I also spent time in a completely different realm when I visited my natural mother’s upper middle-class family in France. There, I experienced horseback riding lessons and museum visits. Dickens through Pip helped me navigate my inner perplexity and the confusing pull and counter-pull of the widely varying expectations of my relatives and friends.

The amazing reality that we hope young authors will encounter as they draft poems, short stories and essays for our writing contest each year is this: Their lives have value and meaning, not only for themselves, but potentially for many others who might read and be moved by their words. And these potential “fans” may live a continent or a life time away from them. That’s why our expectations are so great! Please join us!

Judging Season for the NJCTE High School Writing Contest Begins

Help Finalize the NJCTE High School Writing Contest Prompt

Editor’s note: The NJ Council of Teachers of English will launch our high school writing contest within the next two weeks. Our writing contest committee is finalizing the prompt. This year we’re exploring the interrelated concepts of illusion and truth. Please join the discussion.

Good afternoon, writing contest friends,

There will be a brainstorming session at Panera Bread on a Thursday or Friday (4-4:30 p.m.) or Saturday (around 11 a.m.) for those interested in promoting the high school writing contest in urban schools. This will take place the 2nd or 3rd week of September.

The rough draft of the prompt below has drawn some comments:

Illusions are false beliefs. In life, as in literature, these false beliefs might be about ways to be happy or successful or about what another person is truly like.  Much of great literature centers on the dangers – or at least the foolishness – of living with illusions.  And yet, Mark Twain, perhaps humorously, states:  Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.  Write a personal essay about the discovery of a truth hidden behind an illusion.  This may be about your own illusion or an illusion that someone had about you.  What led to the discovery of truth?  How has this affected your life?

Comments so far:

  1. the word “truth,” has become such a loaded word recently
  2. the idea of fiction getting at deeper emotional truths- stretched truths
  3. the authentic search for truth vs politics
  4. Consider asking students to write one truth and one lie — might prompt some creative interaction in the fiction
  5. How have illusions governed your reality? How has your truth been shaped by illusions? How can one distinguish between truth and lies?

Thank you for your help!

Michele Marotta
Writing Contest Director

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English
Help Finalize the NJCTE High School Writing Contest Prompt

NJCTE 2018 Writing Contest Winners Celebrated at Reception Held at Union Catholic High School

Michele Marotta headshot
Michele Marotta, NJCTE Writing Contest Director

by Michele Marotta

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.
poetry winners all
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.
essay winners
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Roberto Carlos Garcia

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.”
julius michele audrey
Contest host Julius Gottilla, contest director Michele Marotta, and NJCTE president Audrey Fisch

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


NJCTE 2018 Writing Contest Winners Celebrated at Reception Held at Union Catholic High School