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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. This year's cohort has been placed with more than 160 local news organizations across 45 states and Puerto Rico, including two journalists right here at WNIJ. We are thrilled to announce the addition of JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco to our news team, and a new role for WNIJ reporter Yvonne Boose.Yvonne Boose covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This includes how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities.Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers substandard housing and police-community relations. An audio producer and journalist based out of Chicago, he’s also been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office.He will continue Sarah Jesmer’s award-winning work at WNIJ covering issues of social justice and identity. Jesmer earned a top award from the Illinois Associated Press for reports including: Inside DeKalb County's Unincorporated Apartments; Wigs, Lipstick & Sparkles: The Thriving Drag Scene In Northern Illinois; and Kish College: Anonymous Letters And A Controversial Investigation.These reporting positions come at a time when local journalism is already reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.Both positions are partially funded by a grant from Report for America. WNIJ must raise an additional $30,000 in local matching funds. Support these important voices in our community by donating to WNIJ’s portion here.Yvonne and Juanpablo’s stories on our community will be collected below.

Students Are Gearing Up For A National Spoken Word Event

Connie Kuntz
2017 regional Poetry Out Loud event.

National Poetry Month isn’t until April but some Rockford high school students are preparing now for an upcoming spoken word showdown. 

Poetry Out Loud is a competition that takes place for high school students across the country. This year young poets at Jefferson High School are participating.  

Kate Kilgore is the education and community engagement director at the Rockford Area Arts Council. She’s also the northern Illinois regional coordinator for Poetry Out Loud. She said the school has been involved with the competition for more than 10 years.  

“The students who sign up to be in this competition are the best of the best,” she said. “They work so long and so hard at having the poem really come alive.” 

Students select the works of other poets from an online poetry anthology and memorize it for the event.  

“So, the competition starts in the classroom level where the teacher will set up to have their students memorize work on poems and then come to the competition,” Kilgore explained. 

Kilgore said she hopes the recent performances by Amanda Gorman give these young creatives a thrill and inspire them to enter the competition. 

The regional contest takes place virtually Feb. 16, but the public won’t be able to see it until this spring on the Arts Council’s website. Rockford’s poet laureate Christine Swanberg and youth poet laureate Jocelyn Kuntz will speak at the regional event. 

The top two poets will continue to a statewide competition. The state champion will go on to compete in national finals. 

  •  Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.