An annual element of our Arts in Education programming is Poetry Out Loud. The Perry County Council of the Arts has administered a regional level competition of Poetry Out Loud since 2008. Open to all high school students in Perry, Juniata, Mifflin, Montour, Snyder, Union and Northumberland counties, Poetry Out Loud is a national memorization and recitation contest administered nationally by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the decision by the National Endowment for the Arts to make the National Semi-Finals and Finals virtual, PCCA’s 2022 Regional Poetry Out Loud Contest was held virtually.


Jack Strawser, senior at Juniata High School


Seth Prosser, Grade 10
Newport High School

Seth Prosser enjoys focusing his attention on his schooling and education and his two favorite subjects are English and Math. As a member of the Esports Club, he plays chess and is involved in student council. In his free time, Seth writes poetry, and he is very excited for the opportunity to compete in Poetry Out Loud.

Shirley Symmerman, Grade 11
East Juniata High School

Shirley Symmerman enjoys spending time with friends and family, doing puzzles, and playing instruments, but her true passion is charity work. She has been finding different ways to help the homeless since fifth grade; and last year, she co-founded a Christian-based fundraising group to further the effort. Her group has held several events, collecting a total of nearly $8,000 last year.

Jack Strawser, Grade 12
Juniata High School

Jack Strawser is very involved in his high school’s band and choir programs as well as its drama club. He has also a member of his school’s soccer team. In his downtime, he enjoy listening to music and he is a sucker for a good chocolate chip pancake.


“A Poem in which I Try to Express My Glee at the Music My Friend Has Given Me” by Ross Gay

“Plaint in a Major Key” by Jorge Sánchez

“The American Soldier” by Philip Freneau


“NUMBERS” by Mary Cornish

“The Arrow and the Song” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“the world is about to end and my grandparents are in love” by Kara Jackson


“England in 1819” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“I Am the People, the Mob” by Carl Sandburg

“Past-Lives Therapy” by Charles Simic


William G. Davies, Jr.

William enjoys the art of poetry. And in that vein, he has been fortunate to have won the Perry County Poet Laureate designation on three occasions. He was very lucky to have had a volume of poetry published by Prolific Press in 2015. William has found, in the Perry County Times, a conduit that oftentimes shares his perspective with fervor. He resides with his wife, Theresa, with whom he shares forty-seven years of marriage, in Elliottsburg, Pa. He also has had the supreme happenstance of having been published in numerous literary journals.

Leslie Heimbaugh

Leslie recently earned her B.A. in Corporate Communications from Central Penn College. Before that, she had careers in Art Direction, Organizing, and Catering. For the past 12 years, Leslie has worked for Perry County Literacy Council (PCLC) in several roles, including Office Manager, Administrative Assistant, and Development Officer, and still uses her catering skills to provide food for PCLC’s many special events.

Abigail Leffler

Abigail earned her B.A. in Theatre Arts with a Performance Emphasis from Bloomsburg University. After college she did an extensive acting internship and was a frequent guest artist with Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. In North Carolina, she served as the Drama Instructor at the Center of Performing Arts for 8 years, a Director for New Bern Civic Theatre, and as an actor and director for multiple theatre companies. Abby is currently the Education Director at Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble.

Missy Smith 

Missy has worked in the Communications and Journalism fields for 15 years, starting as a newspaper reporter and feature writer, and working in various positions as an editor, photographer, forum moderator, freelance journalist, and communications professional. Missy joined the PCCA staff in October 2013 and serves as the organization’s Communications Director. She is passionate about the written word and poetry and thoroughly enjoys serving as Accuracy Judge for POL.


Poetry Out Loud starts at the classroom level, with winners advancing to a school-wide competition, then to a regional and/or state competition, and ultimately to the National Finals. Each winner at the state level receives $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip with an adult chaperone to Washington to compete for the national championship. The state winner’s school receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. The first runner-up in each state receives $100, with $200 for his or her school library. A total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends is awarded annually at the National Finals.

Judges for the state and regional finals include performers, poets and cultural and business leaders from across the state. The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) sponsors the statewide competition along with its regional partners and arts organizations.

Poetry Out Loud is part of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA)’s ongoing efforts to foster educational excellence for Pennsylvania’s students through participation in the creative process.

Visit the Poetry Out Loud website for more details: