SPARTA-Area students learned recently how powerful their words can be. And for that they were recognized during an evening of literary celebration held last month at the Sparta Public Library. Students, parents, teachers and school administration attended the 17th Annual Sussex County Poetry Contest reception held April 19 at the library. At the event, the first, second, and third place award recipients read their poems for the audience. The poem themes ranged from the weather to a personal battle with cancer. The winner were selected from some 900 entries from schools throughout Sussex County. The names of the young authors and their schools were omitted prior to submitting the entries to the judges. Rhett Pennell, a local children's book author and illustrator, judged the sixth grade entries, and awarded the first place to "Midnight Silence" author Hailey Magee from Stillwater Township School. Second place went to Juliann Lajeskie, author of "One Person Holding Hands." Lajeskie attends Hamburg Elementary school. The poem "Railroad Tracks" by Sara Honanopoulos of Hardyston Middle School received third place. Seventh-grade winners were determined by Janet Cutshall of Sussex County Community College. "Is This A Sign?" by Hopatcong Middle schooler Kathleen McCluskey won the first place. Second place was awarded to Sparta Middle school student Nisha Drummond for "The Numbers To Live By," while Rev. Brown's Mathew Maccaro took home third place with his poem entitled "Why?" Author Wendy Mass judged the eighth grade entries. First place was awarded to an untitled poem by Emily Chamberlain, from Sparta Middle School. Jen Decker from the Sussex Middle School received the second place prize for "I Dare You," while third place went to "Age" written by David Gahary of Rev. Brown School. Poems were judged on style, language, the use metaphors and overall contents. "Just look at the number of submissions we received, that's a lot of poems. For so many of these students, it's obvious from their work that the school curriculum units on poetry has been successfully learned," said Sparta Senior Library Assistant Lyn Gebhar. "For so many other children, writing poetry just comes naturally to them, and the outcome is worthy of consideration." The contest was started by the Sparta Public Library. Originally, it considered only entries from Sparta schools, but the literary event sparked such an interest throughout the county that the library eventually welcomed entries from students from throughout the county. The tradition continues year after year with many students considering their admissions long before the deadline. "Poetry is such a great outlet for the middle school age. Their concerns about peer pressure, family, young love, illness, national concerns
are all expressed in their writing," said Gebhard. "You forget how much this age group has on their plates until you read some of these poems and the feelings connected to them. They are so well written, and the kids should be very proud of themselves."