Festival celebrates child poets

File photos by Sarah Gilbert

Several Fresno State classrooms will be filled with students a little younger than usual next week.

“Over 6,000 students are expected to visit our campus to recite poetry and short stories to our large panel of Fresno State judges,” said Jerry Marquez, public relations coordinator for the festival.

Students will deliver their poems and short stories in various classrooms on campus, canceling the classes usually held at that time.

Stacie Mimura, the Peach Blossom Festival director, said students will come from 132 schools in the surrounding area.

“The performers are from elementary schools in the Central Valley,” Mimura said.

She said the event is open to the community, and “anyone who wants to watch” is welcome to attend.

Mimura said the Peach Blossom Festival is one of her favorite events each year.

“Watching the students perform and seeing the smiles on their faces is priceless,” she said.

Marquez said the festival was established to give young students experience with interpreting and performing literature.

“The festival started over 50 years ago as a joint effort between the communication and theater arts departments at Fresno State,” Marquez said. “The Festival was created to help young people realize the importance of reading literature aloud.”

The festival, now solely run by the communication department, also provides students with the opportunity to visit a college campus.

Fresno State athletes will be at the festival to meet the young poets and give them autographs. Fresno State’s mascot Timeout will also make an appearance.

File photos by Sarah Gilbert

“Most of the students get really excited when they get autographs from school athletes,” Marquez said. “The children really look up to them.”

Stephanie Hartvell, a judging coordinator for the festival, said they need about 200 judges to cover each classroom during all of the sessions. She said they hope to have three judges per room.

Hartvell said the festival depends on volunteers, especially Fresno State students.

“It’s good experience to get involved with things that are going on at Fresno State,” Hartvell said.

Matthew Parkington, another judging coordinator for the festival said most of the judges are communication students, but many community members also get involved with judging.

He said judging is a good learning opportunity for Fresno State students.

“Being a judge gives you experience with working with children and giving them positive feedback,” Parkington said.

Parkington said there are three, one-hour judging sessions for each day of the festival, and anyone can do as many sessions as they would like.

He said a lot of the student judges were Peach Blossom participants when they were in grade school.

“It’s a neat experience for them to be able to come and judge,” Parkington said. “Now that they’re in college they get to return the favor.”

Thousands of kindergarten through sixth grade students will perform poetry at the 52nd annual Peach Blossom Festival from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 18 and March 19.

Students interested in volunteering for the event can call the Peach Blossom Committee at (559) 278-4419.

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