Birch Pages Writing Club places first in prestigious poetry competition


The Birch Pages Writing Club has been judged among the year’s best poets on Long Island, winning a first-place award in the annual student poetry contest hosted by the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. The club was honored at the Whitman museum in Huntington Station on May 5.

Eight fourth-grade students in the Birch Pages club, from the Merrick Union Free School District’s Birch School, were selected as the winners in one category of the competition from a pool of over 4,000 submissions. The writing club was created by Birch teacher Crystal Lopez earlier this school year, for students in lower grades.

The ceremony took place at the Walt Whitman Birthplace Museum, the historic home of Long Island author and poet Walt Whitman, who is known for his renowned works, such as “Leaves of Grass,” and is considered one of the most influential American poets.

The poetry contest intends to promote literacy, poetry and history among students, according to the association’s website.

“This is our 38th annual student poetry contest,” the association’s education director, Lisa Pulitzer, said at the ceremony. “The contest is centered around Walt Whitman’s birthday, which is in the end of May. So we celebrate his birthday with the big poetry contest, and the winners of the poetry competition are going to read their poems today. It’s very prestigious.”

The theme of this year’s competition was “Song of the Open Road,” named for a Whitman poem. Students were challenged to use their poetic voice to show judges, in 30 or fewer lines,  “their own road.”

The beginning of the event featured Poet in Residence Linda Gregerson, author of collections including “The Selvage” and “Canopy: Poems,” who recited a poem she wrote for the occasion.

Afterward, the student winners in a number of categories read their poetry aloud to the attendees. The contest has 10 categories, for individual poems and class anthologies at several grade levels. The Birch Pages club won category G, class anthologies compiled by third- and fourth-graders.

“I am so incredibly proud of them and the effort they put into getting this anthology together,” Lopez said. “They did such a fantastic job, I couldn’t be more proud.” She added that the writing club was formed to inspire students to be creative, and to use poetry as a means of expressing themselves. 

“We are so proud of our students and our teachers for advising them,” Birch Principal Kerri Galante said. “We are always looking to promote education for children. This is one example of children being able to express their creativity through writing, and if you listen to their poems, you’ll know how creative and inspirational they are.”

“I like poetry because you can just let out all of your emotions,” club member and fourth-grader Kaley Mohan said. “It was fun to work with my classmates, because they can help me and I can help them.”

“You get to use your imagination — that’s what poetry’s all about,” a fellow fourth-grader Joshua Shestakovsky said. “I feel like I’m very blessed to be here.”

Writing poetry with his fellow club members made him feel comfortable physically and mentally, Joshua said in a news release from the school district. 

All of the contest winners had their pieces published in an anthology, also titled “Song of the Open Road.” The collection starts with Whitman’s poem of the same name, and includes a poem from Gregerson as well as the work’s of the winners and a list of honorable mentions.

“We worked really hard, in this small time frame, to get their books published for them to have it to take home,” Bonnie Meder, the accounting bookkeeper for the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. “The quality of the poems, from third grade to 12th grade, is amazing.”

To find out more about the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association and the student competition, visit