The odds were certainly steep. Two nationwide contests for editorial and poetry writing aimed at high school English students run by the prestigious New York Times. This year’s editorial contest drew 9,200 entrants; the poetry contest 2,400.
But when the judging was done and votes counted, 15 of the top entries came from one class at one school: Honors Sophomore English at Edmonds-Woodway High School.
Teacher Nancy Branom is no stranger to these nationwide NY Times contests. Each year she assigns her students to submit entries, and over the years several have won awards. But this year eclipsed them all.
“This is unheard of,” Branom exclaimed. “When the results came in, I could hardly believe it. Fifteen winning entries. I’ve never ever had anything like this before. These students are so bright.”
Both contests call for students to gain inspiration from articles published in the New York Times. Students submitting editorials must limit them to 450 words or less and are required to use at least one NY Times article as a source, but may also use others.
The poetry contest is designed to elicit literary creativity. Called the “Found Poem Contest,” it requires students to pick out at least two passages from NY Times articles, combine them with two of their own, and use these words to create an entirely new 14-line poem that needn’t reflect the content or thrust of the source material. The point: inspire creativity.
While Branom gives all credit to the students, the students agree that it wouldn’t happen without her encouragement, inspiration and support.
“I’ve taken several English classes over my school years,” said contest winner Graham Everhart, “and Mrs. Branom’s is the only one that hasn’t felt like a class.”
“She always makes the assignments fun and she really cares about all of us,” said Kemmerly Chipongian. “Her class was first thing in the morning for me, and it always energized me.”
“She made writing a living, breathing thing for me,” added Kai Fischer, who took third-place honors for his poem “Free.”
“People expressed and communicated. It was beautiful,” Fischer said.
Kristen Santarin, whose poem “Blossom and Her Golden Boy” took top honors, shared that in Branom’s class, she felt “the most consistently and creatively liberated” than at any time in the past.
This year’s top showing by her students is particularly significant for Branom, who after a lifetime of teaching is retiring at the close of this academic year. Wednesday was her last day in the classroom. She and her husband plan to travel and look for volunteer opportunities in the community.
— Story and photo by Larry Vogel