13 CARES: Powerful Poetry Gives A Voice To Students

Every Thursday afternoon students and teachers meet in room 1422 at North High School.  It’s not for detention – and it isn’t a class.  The kids aren’t earning credits or worrying about grades, but they are writing.  The words are all theirs… scratched out on notebooks or tapped out on laptops and performed for the group.

This is “Movement 515”.   Emily Lang and Kristopher Rollins are the teachers behind it.  “It started with ‘Share the Mic’ – a show where kids would perform,” says Ms. Lang, “when we realized how much interest there was to write and use their voices, we thought – we have to start a writing workshop!”

Leah Waughtal was one of the first to show up, and she made a big impression.  “I feel I have a story to tell,” she says, “I have something to say, something worth sharing.  I feel like I’m pulling from a collective pool – there are a lot of people I know who deserve to be heard.”

But it can be hard to cut through all of noise in high school, which is why the writing and the performing is so important.  Ms. Lang says kids are allowed to express what they think and how they feel. “They have really strong ideas and a lot of the time they act out because they want to be heard – they want to know their voice is important and their opinions are important.”

No topic is off-limits – and they’re not all serious and deep.

Two of the boys write about the zombie apocalypse.  Julio’s poem is from the perspective of a human who’s being chased, while Marcos chooses to speak a zombie – and does so with gusto.  “It’s just…normally I can’t stop moving, but up there I just get into the poem and that’s all I focus on up there,” he says about the experience, “it’s a bit awkward at first and obviously you get a little nervous.”  That makes Mr. Rollins laugh.  “Marcos kind of went from this awkward middle school kid to really owning the awkwardness and being ok with it and using it to his advantage.  That’s been really fun to see because as a result of this his popularity has really bloomed and the ladies love Marcos.”

Kids who may have felt invisible suddenly have an identity… a positive one…and it’s rubbing off on the people around them.

“They’re the ones showing our schools and our community that it’s ok to be who you are and you shouldn’t be ashamed of who you are,” says Mr.Rollins, “ bullying has really ceased to exist in our school because everyone is starting to accept each other for who they are and that’s been beautiful.”

And this isn’t just about them.  This practice leads up to a performance.  It doesn’t earn them class credits or good grades, but it does earn money.  “Oh wow,” says Ms. Lang, “it’s funny to think in just one year we’ve been able to raise more than two-thousand dollars for non-profits just by having out students write about issues that were important to them.”

Mr. Rollins says the lesson learned is just as important as math or science.  “By donating all the money we feel like we’re showing our kids that you should give back and it’s right to give back and it’s better to give back.”

They’re learning that it’s better to stand up and speak out … instead of blending in.  “That feels GREAT,” Leah exclaims, “because this is something we love doing.  This is a passion – we’re having fun doing this, and the fact that it benefits other people – that’s the icing on the cake – it’s fantastic.”

The students perform Friday night at Fort Des Moines Museum at 7pm.

For more information about “Movment 515” check out http://rundsm.org/


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