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Menlo Park hosts its first youth poetry competition

Number of entries were threefold the number expected, library director says

Poetry award and honorable mention winners pose for a photo during the May 7 Menlo Park Youth Poetry Celebration. Back row, left to right: Zoe Hart, Jamie Zou, Mayor Pro-Tem Cecilia Taylor, Coral Rothenburg, Chyanne Robinson, Aleksii Bulannikov, Menlo Park Library Foundation President Elyse Stein, Library Director Sean Reinhart, Alekos Kapur, Ashley Nguyen, Sophia Gamini. Front row: Emilia Hansen, Abhinav Chavan, Nik de Silva and Gage Lee.

Four local students came away with prizes for Menlo Park's first annual youth poetry competition, according to the city of Menlo Park and Menlo Park Library Foundation, which co-sponsored the contest.

About 200 poets and their families came to the Menlo Park City Council Chambers on May 7 to hear contest winners read their original poems for the Menlo Park Youth Poetry Celebration. The theme for this year's competition was "If I were a book..."

Oxford Day Academy sophomore Chyanne Robinson won the grand prize in the competition and top prize for the high school-age group.

Jamie Zou, an eighth-grader at Hillview Middle School, won in the grade 7-8 category; Sophia Gamini, a Laurel School fourth-grader, won the grade 4-6 prize; and Emilia Hansen, a Las Lomitas School second-grader, took the prize in the grade 2-3 category.

"The competition really shines a light on the high levels of literacy and creativity of our young people," Elyse Stein, president of the library foundation's board of directors, said during the May 7 celebration. "We hope you will continue to write poetry for the rest of your days."

There were also 11 honorable mentions, and the other entrants received "honor roll" awards, Menlo Park Library Director Sean Reinhart noted in an email. There were 188 total entries, with 52 coming from Laurel students and 22 from students in Katherine Haffner's class at St. Raymond School, according to the city.

All participants received a blue ribbon and commemorative booklet, according to the library foundations website. The foundation awarded the 7-8 grade winner $125; the 4-6 winner $100; and the 2-3 grade winner $75, according to the city. Robinson received a new iPad and $150.

Competition judges were: Jackie Berger, English master's degree program director at Notre Dame de Namur University; Jacqui Cebrian, a reading specialist at Oak Knoll School; Betsy Halaby, vice president of the library foundation's board of directors; and Aileen Cassinetto, San Mateo County poet laureate. Judges reviewed entries based on their quality, use of creative expression and relevance to the theme.

Organizers plan to hold a poetry competition next year as well, since this year's event was so successful, Reinhart said. There were "an amazing number" of entries, he said during the May 7 celebration, noting that organizers expected about 50 or 60 entries.

To read the winning poems, go here.

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