Students at Jeffco's Parmalee Elementary use their voices

The school participated in annual oral interpretation assembly on Nov. 19.

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For more than 22 years, Parmalee Elementary School students have stood before the entire school to recite poetry and prose.

This year's oral interpretation assembly on Nov. 19 was no different. Students from every grade stood on stage to recite everything from Shel Silverstein's humorous poetry to one of President John F. Kennedy's speeches to Shakespeare to President Abraham Lincoln's “Gettysburg Address.”

The selections were as diverse as the students who recited them, and their recitations were flawless, some using props and gestures to help convey the meaning. While the oral interpretation event used to be mandatory for students, it's now voluntary.

The fifth graders participating this year stepped up their game, according to event organizers, who said many of the students have been competing against each other since they were in kindergarten. First-, second- and third-place awards are given to each grade.

“They try to best each other,” said parent co-organizer Kari Vernon, who noted that it seems more students nowadays are writing their own poetry to recite at the assembly.

Jen Van Praag, whose sons participated in the competition, attended Parmalee as a child, and she understands the value of both public speaking and the oral interpretation event.

“The competition teaches a lot of life skills,” said co-organizer Van Praag. “I want (the competition) to continue.”

Fifth grader Caroline Heck, dressed in a long flowing dress, recited “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Tennyson. The 19-stanza poem tells of a young noblewoman stranded in a tower up the river from Camelot.

Caroline tied for first place with fifth grader Olive Fiore, who performed a skit by comedian Jim Gaffigan.

Caroline said she chose “The Lady of Shalott” because she's been reading one of the Anne of Green Gables books in which they were acting out the poem. Memorizing the entire piece took time, and she was perfecting the last stanza the night before the competition.

She has participated in the competition since kindergarten, noting it felt good to share first place with Olive. Caroline was nervous at first, and at times as she was reciting, she was trying to remember the next lines.

She and Olive agreed that public speaking is teaching them self-confidence.

Olive chose the Jim Gaffigan skit because he is her favorite comedian. Olive noted that she's pretty funny herself but not the class clown.

Oral interpretation comes easier for Olive because she is involved in Colorado Children's Theatre in Evergreen, so she has some experience acting in front of an audience. And once you get the hang of acting, Olive noted, memorizing the lines is pretty easy.

Olive has been in Parmalee's oral interpretation competition once before.

“The difference between theater kids and normal kids when they recite something is theater kids have a bunch of pizazz,” Olive explained. “They put all their effort into making the crowd enjoy (the performance).”

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