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Waterloo West High School student wins Poetry Out Loud state contest

March 11, 2024

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Kanan Kappelman
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Waterloo West High School student wins Poetry Out Loud state contest

March 11, 2024 (DES MOINES) Andrew Cusmano of Waterloo West High School took first place in the 2024 Poetry Out Loud in Iowa state finals last week, earning a chance to compete for a national championship and a share of $50,000 in scholarships and school prize money. The competition encourages high school students to study great works of poetry, master public speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about their literary heritage. Competitors are judged on accuracy, physical presence, voice and articulation, appropriateness of dramatization, evidence of understanding and overall performance.

Cusmano won this year's state competition with recitations of “Windigo” by Louise Erdrich, “I Remember, I Remember” by Thomas Hood and “Blackberry-Picking” by Seamus Heaney. Izaiah Wilder of Marshalltown High School placed second and Emma Oleson of North High School in Sioux City finished third.

With the victory, Cusmano was awarded $200 cash prize and Waterloo West High School received $500 to purchase poetry books courtesy of the Poetry Foundation. In late April, Cusmano will travel to Washington D.C. to compete against students from all 50 states and several U.S. territories in the national competition.

Now in its 19th year, Poetry Out Loud is overseen in Iowa by the Iowa Arts Council, which is housed within the Iowa Economic Development Authority and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. The National Endowment for the Arts provides free, standards-based curriculum materials for participating state arts agencies and schools, including an online poetry anthology and a program guide to help instructors teach recitation and performance.

Classroom studies culminate with a contest in which each student selects and recites poems from the Poetry Out Loud anthology. Classroom winners advance to school-wide competitions and school champions advance to regional and state competitions. State champions advance to the national finals where scholarships and school stipends are awarded as prizes. This year’s state competition in Iowa capped off a season during which nearly 350 students memorized and recited poems for school and semi-final state competitions. The top ten scoring students advanced to the recent state contest.

A comprehensive list of Iowa’s Poetry Out Loud state champions follows:

2024 – Andrew Cusmano, Waterloo West High School
2023 – Lydia Newsome, Waterloo West High School
2022 – Landon Stanley, Marshalltown High School
2021 – Elijah Thiessen, Marshalltown High School
2020 – Amya Thornton, Holmes Junior High School - Cedar Falls
2019 – Foster Johnson, Bishop Heelan High School - Sioux City
2018 – Sarah Beumler, Bishop Heelan High School - Sioux City
2017 – Grace Kiple, LAMB School of Theatre and Music - Sioux City
2016 – Grace Beumler, Bishop Heelan High School - Sioux City
2015 – Josie Kasik, Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School
2014 – Josie Everett, LAMB Arts Regional Theatre - Sioux City
2013 – Dakota Meyer, Iowa School for the Deaf - Council Bluffs
2012 – Gwen Morrison, Marshalltown High School
2011 – Grace Rants, East High School - Sioux City
2010 – John-Emmett Mahon, PeaceMakers Academy - Sioux City
2009 – Mia Pierson, Roland-Story High School
2008 – Emily Mortvedt, Roland-Story High School
2007 – Spencer Gilbert, Valley High School - West Des Moines
2006 – Ashley Baccam, East High School - Des Moines

More information is available at and

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