Vicki Collins, a USC Aiken English instructor, is delighted this year to direct the annual Language Arts Festival on campus for middle and high school students on Feb. 23.

For several years she has hosted summer writing camps for young students.

“I’m interested in the school connections we can make,” Collins said.

The festival offers students in grades six through 12 the opportunity to compete in six categories related to poetry, narratives, flash fiction, analysis and text-based research.

Volunteer adults will serve as judges during the separate grade-level competitions at the university’s Humanities & Social Sciences Building from 10 a.m. to noon. The awards ceremony will follow at the USCA Student Activities Center’s mezzanine from 1 to 2 p.m. Medals will be presented to the top three winners in each category, including separate middle and high school contests.

The deadline for teachers to register their students is by Feb. 11 at 4 p.m. Students are limited to two of the six categories.

The festival “is an opportunity for students all over Aiken County,” Collins said.

At the 2012 festival, Ridge Spring-Monetta High School students had finished competing and were reading their original poems to each other for practice.

“It’s fun to actually come here and take something I wrote and have others like it,” said RS-M junior Wesley Bright last year.

Collins and co-director and USCA instructor Roy Seeger have revised the categories, replacing those that had not been quite as popular.

Among the new contests is original flash fiction. The students will deliver a piece of fiction of 250 to 400 words. The focus will be on the power of words and of the delivery.

In another competition, students will deliver an original analysis of a visual text. Only high school students will present text-based research as an analysis of a historical or literary text.

Original poetry and the interpretation of published poetry will return to the festival. Another new category seeks memoirs of 4 to 6 minutes. Students will be asked to present an original narrative about a true personal experience.

“We’re excited about the new categories and to see and hear the submissions,” Collins said. “We’re contacting public and private schools all over the county. We want everyone to have the opportunity to participate.”

In 2012, Aiken High senior Derek Berry took first place for original poetry at the high school level. A few years ago, he said then, he had attended a spoken word concert. The quality of the poems amazed him.

“I started writing my own poems,” Berry said. “I plan to major in political science, and this kind of festival will help with that. It’s great to speak in front of people and learn how to speak better.”