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Five RHS Students Take Top Prizes at 2024 Somos NJ Poetry & Culture Festival

Sybil Sanchez-Jacome
RHS students competed in the 2024 Somos NJ Poetry & Culture Festival on March 21, 2024, with five of them taking home top prizes. Pictured is RHS Team Somos, accompanied by Spanish Teachers Sybil Sanchez-Jacome and Estela Flood (front row, center).

Five RHS students took home top prizes at the Somos NJ Poetry & Culture Festival 2024, held at Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) on March 21.

Sophomores Valerie Ayanna Muthikul and Kristhian Rios Rivera took first-place honors in Poetry Composition, freshmen Emma Hyland and Caroline Crane won the beginner category in Poetry Recitation and junior Shelsyn Vasquez Alvarez won in the Spanish Heritage Speakers category.

“Bravo. Todos a una. All for one, and one for all,” said RHS Spanish Teacher Sybil Sanchez-Jacome, who accompanied the students to the festival.

The annual festival, now in its second year, celebrates Spanish, Portuguese and Latin-X poetry and culture, with this year’s theme being Afro-Latinidad, aka Afro-Latino, identity.  The event drew 300 students and teachers from high schools in Newark, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Harrison, Jersey City and Randolph. Festival judges included RU-N professors and students.

For the Poetry Composition competition, students were asked to reflect on the role of poetry in 2024. They submitted either a minute-long video or written reflection in response to prompt questions like, Why is poetry important? What does it allow us to communicate that other genres may not? How does poetry speak to the major issues of our world today? There were winners in four categories: Beginners, intermediate, advanced and heritage.

Bravo. Todos a una. All for one, and one for all.”

— Spanish Teacher Sybil Sanchez-Jacome

All competition winners agreed it was a positive experience. “When I was at the poetry contest, I felt very supported,” said Alvarez, who won a $25 Amazon gift card. “I had the opportunity to meet people apart from the poetry world.”

“It’s not about me winning, it’s about U.S. Latinos of all races, religions and financial backgrounds winning,” added Muthikul, who received a $50 Amazon gift card prize. “We are all winning the battle for representation through our poetry.”

For his win, Kristhian Rios Rivera received a $50 Amazon gift card. “I’m very proud of my process going on in the high school,” he said. “The help has been easy for me. It has taken me a long time to have many friends. Getting along with people of different ethnicities, discovering new horizons. Overall, the help that these people have shown me has been unconditional support. They have taken me to places I would have never imagined, and I won.”

“What stayed with me the most was the support I got from my classmates, Caroline and Ruby, and my teacher, Sra. Sanchez-Jacome,” added Hyland, who won a $50 Amazon gift card. “It was a great opportunity to take part in this diverse cultural experience.”

For her win, Crane received a $25 Amazon gift card.  “I’d say it was a really positive and fun experience, where I got to practice my Spanish and learn new things in a fun competition,” she said.

“I don’t have words to express my gratitude and happiness to these brave students who took the challenge to participate in this poetry festival,” Sanchez-Jacome added. “They put some time aside to embark on the adventurous journey of reciting a poem in a second language, expressing their opinion while validating it and being able to proudly represent Randolph High School.”

About the Contributor
Juliana Malo
Juliana Malo, Staff Reporter
Juliana Malo is a sophomore at RHS. This is her first year on staff at Rampage, and she is a student in Mrs. Finnells Journalism 1 class. Juliana is a member of the Mock Trial Club, Latinx Club, Culinary Club, and Bring Change 2 Mind Club at the high school. She enjoys watching movies and spending time with her pet birds, Kiki and Omelet, and dogs, Millie and Benji.  
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