Watson Chronicle


Programs for P-12 Students

Poetry Slam Celebrates End of 10-Week Poetry Collaboration at Williston

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

On April 16, 21 Watson College students and 32 Williston Middle School students gathered in the auditorium for an end-of-year Poetry Slam performance with the theme "Say it Loud! Poems About the Person I Want to Be in the World."

As students paired with their WCE mentors to make final preparations for the performance, associate professor Candace Thompson was heard everywhere, voicing words of encouragement to the young poets. Soon, she picked up a microphone and announced to the group, "Mr. O will be here soon, so shine y'all!"

"Mr. O" is Williston principal Jerry Oates. He arrived with a smile and told the students, "This is something I look forward to every semester."

Thompson gave brief opening remarks. "The students spent 10 weeks honing their voices," she said. "They were scared but we kept pushing. They took responsibility for their own creative endeavor and they're here today to share their voices with you."

One by one or in small groups, all 32 students took to the stage to share original poetry expressing personal goals, dreams and ambitions.

Poet3The middle school poetry project was established in 2011 to extend and deepen the learning experiences of beginning education students enrolled in Thompson's EDN/L 200 course through meaningful service to underserved area schools. What emerged was a 10-week, school-based field experience at historic Williston Middle School in New Hanover County. The program - now in its fourth year - has become a valued program at the school with many poets returning for both their sixth and seventh grade years. The poetry project is also a popular field experience for beginning education students looking for an authentic, challenging applied learning experience.

Through hands-on learning, the project supports the development of language arts and public speaking skills and is driven by creativity and student collaboration and interest.

"The Williston Poetry Project provides opportunities for middle school poets to see themselves as supported and capable learners and actors in their social and academic success and in the validity and power of their words - written and spoken," Thompson said. "The program also introduces beginning education students to the important work of building positive, meaningful relationships with students from diverse cultural backgrounds, and applying course content to real world situations."

The program is offered as an option to sixth and seventh grade students during their elective period. A seventh grader named Asia said she has participated in the program four times. "It's fun, has a different theme every time and has helped me become more confident," she said. "The program helped me learn to be myself."

WCE mentor Kate Murdoch said it was amazing how much students, middle school poets and WCE mentors, grew through writing and performance.

WCE students Kassi Powell and Emily Arroyo worked together with a group of three middle school girls. "Poetry takes patience," Powell said. "It's a hard subject for some kids to relate to." Arroyo said music helped students get started. "As students were speaking and singing they learned to connect poetry and music and think about poetry as the lyrics for a song," she said.

Poet1Asked what it takes to run a successful program, Thompson responded, "This takes resources that serve as tickets to the world - books with voices from all over the world, in multiple tongues, styles and experiences. This takes artistic people and resources that fuel complex imaginations, and it takes technology to engage, enhance, capture and illuminate the efforts of our poets and their young mentors." Thompson also noted that high engagement from her WCE students, and their willingness to take significant learning leaps in new and complex educative spaces is essential to a successful project.

Thompson has received two grants from Friends of UNCW and funding from Watson College Dean Teitelbaum that have enabled her to purchase books, video cameras and iPads to support the program. This year, she was also able to invite a guest poet, Martha Lundin, a graduate student in UNCW's Creative Writing program, to host two mini-poetry performance and writing workshops at Williston for the young poets and her education students.

As the Poetry Slam drew to a close, Watson College of Education students performed as a group to show their appreciation of their student poets and Williston Middle School. The poem they chose to share is "The Truth" by Ted Joans to capture an important lesson learned along with their poets: there is more to a person than what we see and the poetry of a person, the truth of a person, can only be revealed when we truly see them through relationship.

if you should see
a man
walking down a crowded street
talking aloud
to himself
don't run
in the opposite direction
but run towards him
for he is a POET!
you have NOTHING to fear
from the poet
but the TRUTH