Four District 99 Students Earn Regional Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards graphic

Four District 99 students earned Midwest Region Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for their work in various categories of creative writing. These awards are accepted and judged by the Belin-Blank Center within the College of Education at the University of Iowa.

Downers Grove North High School’s Madeline Riske earned a Gold Key, the highest recognition, for her poetry submission, “Ballad of the Bluebird.” Her entry has advanced to national judging and awards will be announced later this month. Read more about Madeline's inspiration for this poem below!

“It was evident within even the first week of the course that Madeline is thinking beyond mere assignments and instead working to refine her voice and style on the page,” North High English and Communications Teacher Lauren Schlesinger said. “‘Ballad of the Bluebird’ showcases Madeline's capacity to sculpt precise images--by using elevated diction, highly varied syntax, and enjambment--in order to reinvent ballad form and provide a personal meditation on the bluebird figurine.” 

District 99 students and teachers receiving Scholastic Art & Writing Awards include:

Maya Homberg Freshman South High
Maya Homberg
, Freshman, South High (Teacher Alison Helms)

  • Personal Essay & Memoir, That Smooth Blue Sharpie, Honorable Mention

Madeleine McGovern Junior North High
Madeleine McGovern
, Junior, North High (Teacher Demetrios Papageorge)

  • Critical Essay, Embracing Ethnicities, Honorable Mention
  • Critical Essay, Medea and Modern Women: Victims of Society, Honorable Mention

Madeline Riske Junior North High
Madeline Riske
, Junior, North High (Teacher Lauren Schlesinger)

  • Poetry, Ballad of the Bluebird, Gold Key
  • Flash Fiction, A Torn Apart Masterpiece, Silver Key
  • Short Story, The Box, Silver Key

Madison Smith Junior North High
Madison Smith
, Junior, North High (Teacher Alexa Harris)

  • Poetry, New Decorations, Honorable Mention

For more information about the Regional Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, click here.


The story behind "Ballad of the Bluebird" by Madeline Riske

A glass Bluebird sitting on top of a stack of books

What was your inspiration for writing Ballad of the Bluebird?

“Grief has become a harsh reality for many people during these times and it's been hard for me to watch close friends and family suffer from such painful losses, so I wrote this poem to confront that overwhelming emotion. After hearing the stories of those coping with grief, I was reminded of how the death of my grandmother impacted me when I was younger. I was inspired to capture the notion that grief can linger despite passing time, and we often search for tangible reminders of those we've lost. So, I used a gift from my grandmother to touch on the idea that the people we love don't ever completely leave us.”

What do you enjoy most about writing fiction and poetry?

“Especially when the world can be loud and overpowering, I find that writing fiction and poetry can be an escape, even if momentary, from that reality. I enjoy writing as a creative outlet to express my emotions while also experimenting with different characters and narratives.”

Read the full poem "Ballad of the Bluebird" by Madeline Riske

Glass bluebird,
Perched on my window sill,
Plumed with sunlight,
Glossed over with time.

While birds are meant to fly,
she is as heavy as the memories that bind her to my pane.
A weighted force,
A motherly rock.
Her owner takes flight, but she remains, 
A tangible grounding of sapphire coloring,
kept company by storming dust 
And useless knick-knacks.

I used to think if I held the finely curved shape of her figure,
I would remember more
Than fleeting laughter
And waning recollections,
Like a souvenir of what once was,
Bathed in turquoise pose,

For the smooth dip of her wing reminds me 
Of the curve of my grandmother’s hand,
And her chirping song echoes like wistful lullabies

But she is no phoenix.
No memory will rise from the ashes of the humble bluebird.
Instead, I see my warped reflection 
Mirrored in this delicate figurine.

And perhaps she is no window to the past.
It is far too much to ask her fragile frame
To carry the weight of a shattered family
And a broken girl,

But if I look close enough, 
I gaze back
At my grandmother’s eyes.