Students demonstrate foreign language proficiency at COLT Poetry Contest


Gabrielle Wheeler '23

Students earn 18 medals from the COLT Poetry Contest. 

Twenty Sacred Heart Greenwich Upper School students competed against 218 other middle and high school students at the Connecticut Council of Language Teachers Poetry Recitation Contest (COLT Poetry Contest) April 21, earning a total of 18 medals.  The contest is an annual foreign language competition that allows students from middle and high schools in Connecticut to showcase their language proficiency and fluency skills.  

Each year, students compete in various slates that represent their languages and proficiency levels.  The slates included Ancient Greek, Arabic, English Speakers of Other Languages or English Language Learners (ESOL/ELL), French, German, Italian, Latin, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.  Heritage students and students who are learning a second language compete separately. 

Students strengthen three of the four core foreign language skills at the COLT Poetry Contest.  Courtesy of

Freshmen Emilia Bernal, Antonia Iraola, Claire Maher, Francesca Marangi, and Nova Ramseur-Moore, sophomores Kenza Aissaoui, Nouha Aissaoui, Catherine Dodman, Gigi Gazal, Ana López del Punta, Robin Murphy, and Gabrielle Wheeler, juniors Leah Allen, Joi Almonacy, and Kayla Malcolm-Joseph, and seniors Natalie Dosmond, Nina Ferrucci, Fran Iraola, Dominique Prato, and Morgan Wilkens represented Sacred Heart in the Arabic, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, and Spanish slates.

Sixteen of these students earned 18 awards, based on their memorization, diction, interpretation, body language, and the difficulty of their poem.  These students included gold-medal winners freshmen Emilia Bernal and Francesca Marangi, sophomore Gigi Gazal, junior Kayla Malcolm-Joseph, and senior Natalie Dosmond, and silver-medal winners freshmen Antonia Iraola and Claire Maher, sophomores Kenza Aissaoui and Gabrielle Wheeler, junior Leah Allen, and senior Dominique Prato.  Six additional students received bronze medals, including sophomores Nouha Aissaoui, Ana López del Punta, and Robin Murphy, and seniors Francisca Iraola and Morgan Wilkens.

In the past, Sacred Heart students recited poems in front of their classes for a grade and then a chosen student would represent the class at the competition.  This year, teachers gave students the option to recite the poems and attend the competition.  Interested students then recorded a video of their poem recitation for their teachers to view.  Students, chosen among their peers, then prepared for the competition.  In preparation for the contest, students learned the meaning of their poems and practiced reciting them.  

This year, the COLT Poetry Contest shifted to a virtual format in accordance with COVID-19 protocols.  The contest took place over Zoom and Sacred Heart students stayed after school to compete from classrooms around the school.  Nouha participated in the in-person COLT competitions in the past, and found the new virtual format of the event to be a success. 

“The virtual format definitely took off some stress as public speaking doesn’t come easy to me so I think it was more of a relieving experience than a challenging one,” Nouha said.  “However, I do prefer it in person because the experience is just so much better when you can be there with your classmates and meet so many other people and anticipate the results together.  There’s also a performance every year that I enjoy watching as well.”

During the contest, participants recited their poems and listened to the recitations of the other participants.  This fosters a collaborative environment, allowing students to learn from each other.  

Kenza and Nouha competed in the High School Heritage Arabic slate, reciting “Ya Layl” by Mr. Mouhamed Aleed Al khalifa and “Saqaa Alghathou Itlal Alahiba bialHama” by Mr. Ibn Zaydoun, respectively.  Nouha also competed in the French Level 3 slate, reciting “La Solitude” by Mr. Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant.  The heritage category allows students to connect with their culture and meet peers who speak their native language.  Kenza, a heritage Arabic speaker, regards the contest as a rare opportunity to surround herself with other students who speak Arabic. 

“As a heritage speaker, the contest is important to me because I love to hear other people who speak my language,” Kenza said.  “I don’t know a lot of people here that speak Arabic so it’s nice to know that there is a community out there.  I wanted to participate in the COLT poetry contest because I love to listen to other people’s poems as well as learn my own.  I love reading poetry and it was definitely fulfilling to be able to learn and listen to the poems in a different language.”

Nouha attended her first COLT poetry contest in seventh grade.  The contest appealed to Nouha due to the positive effects of learning and reciting poetry on the improvement of her speaking ability.  

Catherine Dodman ’23 recited “Anoche cuando dormía” by Mr. Antonio Machado in the High School Spanish 2 slate.  Gabrielle Wheeler ‘23

“My first year, I decided that it could be useful to learn and recite a poem in French, I thought it would help me with my skills in general,” Nouha said.  “Then I found out that I could participate in a heritage section for Arabic so I did that too.  But now I do it because I had so much fun with my classmates when we went back in middle school so I decided to continue doing it even though it’s through Zoom.  It’s a fun experience that I will definitely continue doing in the future.”

Catherine and Joi attended the contest for the first time this year, representing their Spanish classes.  Joi recited “Volverán las oscuras golondrinas” by Spanish poet Mr. Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer.    

“Every year since the 8th grade I have had to memorize a poem in Spanish for the COLT program,” Joi said.  “I usually just memorized the poem with the intent to get a passing grade in my Spanish class.  Last year was the first time I memorized it with the intent to go to COLT, I was one of the finalists in my class but ultimately someone else was chosen.  This year memorization and participation were optional.  I thought about how badly I wanted it last year and decided to apply and was given the opportunity to represent the Level IV Spanish speakers.”

Catherine represented her Spanish II class, reciting “Anoche cuando dormía” by Mr. Antonio Machado.  Catherine wanted to participate to further develop her Spanish skills outside the classroom.

“I think the contest is important because it exposes you to other aspects of the culture you are learning about and helps you to practice your accent,” Catherine said.

Poetry allows students to learn the intricacies of their language and expand their knowledge of literary devices.  Poems often feature large quantities of repetition, rhyme, and alliteration, according to  Joi finds learning poetry in a foreign language to be an avenue to gaining a new level of comfort with that language. 

“With the poem, I learned and read about it the same way someone in Spain would,” Joi said.  “I was able to see literary elements that I learned in English like anaphora, metaphor, and meter.  The similarities helped me to deepen my understanding of the Spanish language.  Also in Spanish classes, we learn grammar and vocabulary that I often don’t see myself using in day-to-day conversations. Through learning the poem I expanded my vocabulary to more advanced words that are not likely to be taught in a normal Spanish course.”

Featured Image by Gabrielle Wheeler ’23