Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

Students from the Connections Academy, Summerville, Sonora, Don Pedro and Tioga high schools will compete in fifth annual Poetry Out Loud finals at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, at Stage 3 Theatre at 208 S. Green St. in Sonora.

Admission is free, with donations accepted.

"We're excited to once again provide this opportunity for Tuolumne County youths to gain an appreciation for great poetry while learning valuable confidence building skills," said Connie O'Connor, executive director of the Tuolumne County Arts Alliance, which sponsors the county competition.

Last fall, Jonathon Bermea, a two-year local winner, two-year state finalist and state judge last year, shared his uniquely personal perspective on the program when he and POL facilitator Bonnie Bryson traveled to local high schools getting teens fired up about the program.

Bermea will be back again Tuesday as a local judge.

Since 2007, more than 2,000 Tuolumne County high school students have had the opportunity to participate at the school level and more than 50 have competed in the countywide finals.

"As those of you who have been following the program know, Poetry Out Loud is a valuable method for introducing students to the world of modern and classical poetry," O'Connor said. "High school students who have been inspired by reading, listening to, and performing poetry out loud also recognize the value of this program."

Nationally acclaimed poet and playwright Rick Foster of Columbia, assisted by teacher-actor Bonnie Bryson, have been working directly with the county competitors on their recitation, delivery and interpretive skills.

"The opportunity to work with Rick Foster is an added bonus for those participants talented enough to be selected for the county level competition," O'Connor said.

On Tuesday, one local student will be selected to represent Tuolumne County at the state Poetry Out Loud competition on March 16 and 17 in Sacramento. The national competition will be held in April in Washington, D.C.

"The competitions generate enthusiasm and energy as students from all over bring forward their powerful performances," said B.Z. Smith, former POL coordinator. "Much like the state and national spelling bees, there is a buzz in the air as tension mounts. And right there in the thick of it is one student from our community."

Due to the enthusiastic response from Tuolumne County schools, volunteers and donors in the community, the Tuolumne County Poetry Out Loud is one of the best run in the state, said program facilitator Michele Tennant-Carranza.

"Presenting such an elaborate program isn't cheap, but the benefits to the participants are priceless," she said.

These funds provide a small stipend to the poetry coaches and pay the costs of hosting the county-level competition, but most importantly the funds guarantee that our chosen representative for the state competition will have necessary financial support to attend, Tennant-Carranza said.

The Arts Alliance makes every effort to make sure that the student selected doesn't miss out on this opportunity because of financial circumstances, she said.

The California Arts Council sponsors the state Poetry Out Loud competition. The Tuolumne County Arts Alliance, formerly the Central Sierra Arts Council, was invited to participate in this program beginning in the 2007-2008 school year. Tuolumne County was one of only 29 counties statewide in the program at that time.

Kristin Margolis, state director of California Poetry Out Loud commented, "Tuolumne County's participation is growing. We're impressed with the talented students from your area. We hope the kids get involved and become immersed in poetry."

Nationally, POL is presented by the National Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Poetry Out Loud is just one of TCAA's many arts education programs, but it is the only program that exclusively targets high school age students, O'Connor said.

The Tuolumne County Arts Alliance, a nonprofit organization, is Tuolumne County's designated public agency for the arts, and works in partnership with the California Arts Council.

For more information , call 532-2787 or visit