Jessie Seigel is a fiction writer and Potomac Review associate editor. She also blogs on writing at The Adventurous Writer.

I recently had the pleasure of serving as a juror for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, a national educational program that gives recognition to creative works in the visual and literary arts submitted from across the nation by teenagers in grades 7-12.  The awards are presented by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers and, depending on the award, may make students eligible for various scholarships. (Past national awardees have included artists such as Andy Warhol, writers such as Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Bernard Malamud, and Joyce Carol Oates; and actors such as Frances Farmer, Robert Redford and Alan Arkin.)

Each work is first judged by regional affiliates that run the awards process in local communities. The judging, of course, is blind. The best from each region advance to be assessed at the national level. In addition, five submissions are chosen from each region to be submitted for the American Voice Nominations.

In the greater Washington area, the regional affiliate is Writopia Lab, and I was one of a number of jurors working under its auspices. The local work was divided amongst us, each of us judging a different group of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, personal essays, critical essays, and/or portfolios containing a mixture of such works, and giving them ratings from 1 to 10.

This was my second year serving as a juror, and I was honored, after the first round, to be chosen as one of three head jurors determining which of 26 works rating highly in the first round of judging would be submitted for the American Voice Nominations.

In both my years as a juror, I have found the best of the work extraordinary, showing as much maturity, authority, and polish as established writers with many more years on them. It has made me wish to meet the writers and discuss writing techniques as equals. In much of the less perfect work, I could see that the writers have talent and just need more time to grow and develop. Exposure to the writing of these up and coming talents is the exciting reward of doing this work.

The judging for the regional awards is completed for this year. (There will be a regional awards ceremony on March 8th.) For information about how to apply to volunteer as a juror next year, one may contact Writopia D.C. program coordinator, Genna Kohlhardt, at Genna@writopialab.org.