Editor’s note: This is a weekly series of Department Spotlight stories featuring unique programs and initiatives of departments throughout The American Legion. Department adjutants are invited to recommend subjects for their departments by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Legion Department of New Hampshire’s Junior Oratorical Program – the only one of its kind – was developed 15 years ago to serve as a steppingstone to the department’s high school Oratorical competition. The junior program is an opportunity to not only increase program participation at the high school level, but to also provide students in grades 6 through 8 an opportunity to learn about the U.S. Constitution, speak comfortably in front of an audience, and earn monetary prizes.
“The Junior Oratorical Contest gives the students a touch of what it’s going to be like when they participate in the high school program,” said Joe Caouette, a past National Americanism Commission chairman who helped create the department’s Junior Oratorical Contest.
The Junior Oratorical Contest is ran like the high school competition in that it consist of two orations; however, unlike the high school program, the junior competition’s speaking time for the prepared oration is three to five minutes and the assigned topic speaking time is two to three minutes. And participants are allowed to use notecards for reference.
Participating schools and homeschools in the department's eight districts are eligible to send one or two finalists to compete at the district and state level. The state competition is held at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester where contestants compete for first place and more than $1,500 in scholarships. Five judges from the area critique the students on criteria such as originality, knowledge of subject, voice and diction, word arrangement and more.
The Department of New Hampshire’s Junior High Oratorical Program Committee includes a representative from each of the eight districts who is responsible for educating public and private school leaders, as well as homeschools, about the program. The contest this year will be held April 1.
About 60 percent of the youth who participate in the Junior Oratorical Contest go on to participate in the department’s high school competition.
“These (junior high students) are not our future; they are our present,” Caouette said.