The COLT Poetry Recitation Contest celebrates Connecticut’s cultural diversity 


Gabrielle Wheeler '23

Poetry increases accessibility to world languages at the annual COLT Poetry Recitation Contest.

The sounds of seven languages animated Hayes Hall as students competed in the annual Connecticut Council of Language Teachers (COLT) Poetry Recitation Contest March 29.  Freshman Eugenia Piriz, sophomore Isabella Salerno, and Sra. Montserrat García, Upper School World Language Teacher and Network Exchange Program Coordinator, expressed the benefits of poetry in learning a language.  

The COLT competition celebrates language and culture, bringing together a diverse group of students and teachers from across Connecticut to enhance the students’ world language skills.  Students compete in different slates based on their language and level.  Heritage students and second language learners compete separately within their respective language.  The contest’s goal is to allow students to explore a language through its literature, history, and culture as it combines drama, language arts, and public speaking to connect global communities, according to

Students gather in Hayes Hall before the competition.  Courtesy of Mrs. Kristen Williams

Twenty-eight Upper School and Middle School students represented Sacred Heart Greenwich in this year’s contest.  Freshmen Olivia Figueiredo and Eugenia Piriz, sophomores Maxine Boeding, Sofia Latrille and Natasha Stewart, juniors Antonia Iraola, Avery Kim, Camila Oliva, and Ana Patricio, and senior Caroline Geba recited Spanish poetry.  Sophomores Isabella Salerno and Julia Stiker and senior Giovanna Gazal competed in the Arabic slate.  Freshmen Juliette Pelham and Carolyn Quill, sophomores Julia and Morgan Sfreddo, juniors Caroline Clark and Emilia Bernal, and senior Kass Morrow explored the French language through poetry.  Junior Claire Maher recited a poem in Mandarin Chinese.  Senior Claudia El-Masry competed in the Italian and Latin categories.

Sacred Heart world language teachers select students from their classes to compete in the COLT Poetry Contest.  World language classes study their poems to understand their meaning and context before learning the proper pronunciation and incorporating performance choices.  Then, students recite their poems in front of their classes and one student goes on to represent Sacred Heart in that language level.  

As a returning participant in the COLT poetry contest, Isabella recited “Jawaz Safar” in Arabic.  After memorizing the poem, Isabella recited it frequently, focusing on pronunciation and on adding emotion and expression.

“I chose to participate in the COLT poetry contest this year because I have a strong passion for Arabic, and poetry is a great way to learn more about the language,” Isabella said.  “This contest is more important to me as a language learner because learning languages brings people closer to each other and it makes people more confident.  The contest helps me strengthen my Arabic speaking skills and it helps me learn more about the culture.”

Ana Patricio ’24, Camila Oliva ’24, and Avery Kim ’24 wait in Hayes Hall before they recite poems in Spanish.  Courtesy of Emilia Bernal ’24

Eugenia also appreciates the opportunity the contest provides to study literary analysis, much like in an English course.  In this year’s contest, Eugenia recited a Spanish poem titled “Si tu me Olvidas” by Mr. Pablo Neruda.

“In English class we learn to interpret writing and I wanted to take this opportunity to practice doing the same in Spanish especially since this interpretation will then be expressed verbally,” Eugenia said.

As Eugenia’s family is from Uruguay and is Spanish-speaking, Eugenia was able to practice reciting “Si tu me Olvidas” with them.  While this helped with pronunciation, Eugenia also found the contest to be a point of connection.

“This contest is important to me because many of these poems and poets are read by my parents and cousins in Uruguay, so learning what they learned makes me feel more connected to my heritage and my family,” Eugenia said.  “Specifically for the poem I’m doing, my entire family knows about Pablo Neruda and his life so not only was it something I was able to connect with my family about, it was very interesting to get to learn about him and what he experienced while learning the poems he wrote.”

Emilia Bernal ’24 and Antonia Iraola ’24 prepare together before the contest begins.  Avery Kim ’24

Volunteers from Connecticut schools served as judges, evaluating students for the accuracy of their recitation from memory, their diction, delivery, and body language.  Students will receive points for each criteria and a student has to receive a minimum of 56 points to receive a designation of first, second, or third place winner, according to  The judges will award each contest winner with a medal.

As both the faculty adviser of Sacred Heart’s Upper School multilingual art and literary magazine, Voices, and as a Spanish faculty member, Sra. García encourages students to embrace opportunities to incorporate poetry into the celebration of world language.  Sra. García explained the benefits of writing and editing for Voices and of reciting poetry in the COLT Poetry Contest.

“Poetry is an artform of representing a culture, and when students are learning poetry in a foreign language, whether it is writing, editing or reciting a poem, they are immersing themselves in that culture,” Sra. García said.  “They are also learning how figurative language is expressed in another language, and how it is used by the writer to express their point of view in that culture.  All of which gives students the opportunity to continue exploring and learning not only that language but also about the culture that it represents.”

Ten Upper School students brought 11 medals back to King Street.  Giovanna and Julia received gold medals in the Arabic slate, Emilia and Julia won gold medals in the French slate, and Antonia and Eugenia earned gold medals in the Spanish slate.  Juliette and Isabella obtained silver medals in the French and Arabic slates, respectively.  Judges awarded Olivia a bronze medal in Spanish, Claire a bronze medal in the Mandarin Chinese category, and Carolyn a bronze medal in French.

Featured Image by Gabrielle Wheeler ’23