On Sunday night while most people were at home watching the 95th Oscar Awards, Poetry Out Loud Illinois student competitors were preparing and dreaming of being awarded the title of State Poetry Out Loud Winner.

In Illinois this year, 42 high schools were part of Poetry Out Loud.  175 teachers.  Almost 8,000 students!  Sixteen students representing Illinois’s eight regions competed at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in downtown Springfield on Monday, March 13, 2023.

The state competition featured recitations by winning students from each of eight state regions:  Central, Chicago-City, Chicago-Metro, Eastern, Northern, South-central, Southern, and Western. The top five finalists included Chicagoland’s very own Sidney Bester, Adeleah Reynoso, and Yohanna Endashaw.

Each finalists gave phenomenal performances. Yet, Yohanna Endashaw’s empowering recitation of “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus made her the Illinois State Poetry Out Loud Winner. Endashaw’s other recitations were “Siren Song” by Margaret Atwood and “My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work” by Tiana Clark.  Yohanna Endashaw is from NILES WEST HIGH SCHOOL in SKOKIE and will advance to May’s national competition in Washington, D.C.

Thaddeus Bergschneider from FRANKLIN HIGH SCHOOL in FRANKLIN placed second in the competition.




Here are names, high schools, and hometowns of the eight regional winners:

Sidney Bester (finalist) – Homewood Flossmoor, Flossmoor

   Sara Carter – Thomas Jefferson, Rockford

   Eliza Denham – Eureka, Eureka

   Vanali Desai – Stephen T. Mather, Chicago

   Rebecca Drake – Massac County, Metropolis

   Leo Dunahee – Nashville Community, Nashville

   Brooklynn Haars – Orion, Orion

   Veda Kommineni – Edwardsville Community, Edwardsville

   Adeleah Reynoso (finalist) – Taft, Chicago

   Mikira Rogers –Thomas Jefferson, Rockford

   Kate Roth (finalist) – Champaign Central, Champaign

   Wade Schacht – Champaign Central, Champaign

   Alex Walker –Edwardsville Community, Edwardsville

   Eleanor Wilbur – Orion, Orion

The State program manager was Susan Dickson of the Illinois Arts Council Agency.  The contest coordinator was Sheila Walk, executive director of the Springfield Area Arts Council.   Recitation judges were Mariah Brooks (Springfield), Ashley Mallick (Carbondale), Jacob Saenz (Chicago), and Ted Williams III (Chicago); accuracy judge was Théa Chesley (Springfield).

Poetry Out Loud in Illinois is a collaborative project of the Illinois Arts Council Agency and seven arts agencies who host regional contests.  As a national program, Poetry Out Loud:  National Recitation Contest encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through analysis, memorization, performance, and competition.  The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, in conjunction with state arts agencies, support this nation-wide program with participants from all fifty states plus Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American, Samoa, and Puerto Rico.

More information is available at 


             This program is made possible with support by the Illinois Arts Council Agency 





Photographs of Endashaw and Bergschneider (taken by William Richards)

Photographs of winning students from each of eight state regions: (taken by Bryan Wilson of Taft H.S.) 




“Writing poetry makes me feel like I can see myself, like I can see my reflection, but not in a mirror, in the world. I write and I know I can be reflected.”
-Oscar S.

“Writing poetry makes me feel free.”
-Buenda D.

“Writing poetry is like your best friend.”
-Jessica M.