Sarah Koo, 2016 Missouri State Champion, Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest

Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest

The annual Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest  encourages the nation’s high school students to experience great poetry through participating in a dynamic nationwide recitation competition. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. Missouri has participated in Poetry Out Loud every year since the program was founded in 2006 by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

The Poetry Foundation and NEA administer Poetry Out Loud together with the state arts agencies of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The Missouri Arts Council and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education work in partnership to bring Poetry Out Loud to Missouri.

The competition is structured as a pyramid that starts at the classroom level. Classroom winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to a regional competition, then to a state (or territorial) competition, and ultimately to the National Finals.

2016 Program Culminated May 3-4 at National Finals

Fifty-three students from among 317,000 from more than 2,300 high schools around the country competed in the National Finals in Washington, D.C. on May 3-4. Missouri’s State Champion was Sarah Koo, a senior at Parkway North High School in St. Louis. At the Finals, Sarah advanced to the top eight semifinalists in the Central Region.

Sarah rose to Missouri State Champion at the State Finals in Jefferson City on March 10, winning her place from among 10 Missouri’s regional champions. Molly Williams, a senior at Summit Christian Academy in Lee’s Summit, was runner-up. We congratulate all these champions on their sterling achievements!

Central | Shakira Cross, sophomore, Hickman High School (Columbia)
Kansas City North |  Ruth Edmondson, sophomore, Northland Christian School
Kansas City South | Molly Williams, senior, Summit Christian Academy (Lee’s Summit)
Northeast | Elva Moreno, senior, Milan High School
Northwest | Alex Hall, junior, St. Joseph Home School Group

Southeast | Kirstan Graviett, senior, Notre Dame Regional High School (Cape Girardeau)
Southwest | Lydia Laub, senior, Stockton High School
St. Charles County | Angelreana Choi, freshman, Rolla High School
St. Louis City | Kaitlyn Davis, senior, McKinley Classical Leadership Academy
St. Louis County | Sarah Koo, senior, Parkway North High School

2016 Missouri regional champions | front row left to right, Kaitlyn Davis, Shakira Cross, Lydia Laub, Elva Moreno, Sarah Koo (champion), Ruth Edmondson | second row left to right, Angelreana Choi, Molly Williams (runner-up), Alex Hall, Kirstan Graviett – photo by Lloyd Grotjan

Watch the videos of the 2016 Missouri State Finals

Round 1 – Sarah Koo performs at 17:42, Sanctuary by Jean Valentine
Round 2 – Sarah Koo, 16:14, Lines Written in Early Spring by William Wordsworth
Round 3 – Sarah Koo, 17:31, In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr. by June Jordan


Schools begin to register for Poetry Out Loud every fall at the beginning of the academic year. Check these resources to learn more about how the program works and the benefits it brings to students and schools. Also, contact Virginia Sanders, Missouri Poetry Out Loud coordinator, at 314-340-6851 or

  • Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest
  • National Endowment for the Arts pages about Poetry Out Loud
  • Poetry Foundation
  • Poetry Is Alive and Well in Missouri article – “You can pick poems you can relate to and put your own spin on it,” says 2015 Missouri State Champion Maya Bryant in this interview in StreetScape Magazine May/June 2015 (pages 70-71) with Maya and other 2015 Missouri participants.
  • Get Involved in Poetry Out Loud! video – Hear from students and teachers about why they love the program in this five-minute video. Missouri is prominently featured. There are comments from Thomas Fields, 2014 Missouri State Champion and one of only nine finalists in the 2014 nationals. There are also comments from Charles Hussung, teacher at St. Louis University High School at which Thomas was a senior, and from Virginia Sanders of the Missouri Arts Council, our Missouri Poetry Out Loud coordinator.
  • Letter (PDF) from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to school superintendents describing the 2016 program and how Poetry Out Loud benefits schools
  • Article (PDF) by the National Association of State Arts Agencies lauding the program’s life-changing “power of poetry and partnership”

11 years of Poetry Out Loud in Missouri

From the first Poetry Out Loud in 2006, these are Missouri’s State Champions.

2016 | Sarah Koo, Parkway North High School, St. Louis County
2015 | Maya Bryant, Holt High School, Wentzville
2014 | Thomas Fields, St. Louis University High School, St. Louis
2013 | Essence Imani Lee, Crossroads College Preparatory School, St. Louis
2012 | Cameron Locke, Stockton High School, Stockton
2011 | Terry Watkins, Jr., Crossroads College Preparatory, St. Louis

2010 | Nicole Andrews, Springfield R-12 Central High School, Springfield
2009 | Pete Winfrey, St. Louis University High School, St. Louis
2008 | Aryiel Everett, Park Hills High School, Park Hills
2007 | Michael Brown, Blue Springs High School, Blue Springs
2006 | Aislinn Lowry, Jefferson City High School, Jefferson City