This fall, all District 97 7th graders are participating in Spoken Word, the Oak Park Education Foundation’s new program. The Spoken Word Club at Brooks will be open to all 6th-8th grade students, and will launch in December.

Click on slideshow below to see more photos.

Photos by Paul Goyette
Brooks Spoken Word

Thanks to Ginger Yarrow, OPEF parent link at Brooks, who reported from Mrs. Gaffney’s 7th grade class:


OPEF’s Spoken Word is alive and well at Brooks Middle School! As Brooks’ poet-in-residence for this new poetry program, Dan “Sully” Sullivan, explains, “This art form is one that really gives these kids a voice—to be able to stand up and say ‘who I am.’ They don’t have the space to do that at this age.”

But now they do—in the week-long Spoken Word workshop, in which all 7th graders at Brooks and Julian have the opportunity to discover their own ability to express themselves in poetry. Caleb H., 7th grader in Mrs. Gaffney’s Language Arts class, said he “never paid a lot of attention to it and thought it was boring but now that Sully introduced me to it I feel inspired.”

As a student at OPRF, Sully was a founding member of the Spoken Word program there. He also came back as an adult to direct the OPRF after-school program until 2013.

Harrison K. said he wrote poetry before, but now “I feel like there is a connection.”

By reading aloud “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon’s (poet laureate of Kentucky), Sully gave them a model to spring from and then carefully walked them through a process to arrive at their own images.

As Niakayla M. put it, “I never really got how they [poets] were able to do it, to think of something that inspired them to write a poem. Before now, I didn’t know where it’s supposed to come from.”

Sully encouraged them to write about feelings but to also “move beyond the cliché,” reminding them of their metaphor workshop earlier in the week. Then he asked them to use these ideas to write their own “Where I Am From” poems.

Anthony C. wrote, “I am from rims and nets” and was trying to think of something that is said on the basketball court that he could put in his poem. By the end of the week his poem, which he shared with the class, included “I am from ‘offense wins games and defense wins championships.’”

As students walk to the front of the room to share, they are met with encouraging applause from their classmates and once they are finished—snapping fingers, a hallmark of Spoken Word.

“I am from double-knotted laces,” “I am from Matzo balls and ‘my grandmother got sick on her bat mitzvah day, ’” “I am from China, Mexico, and Naperville”….

In addition to the “Where I’m From” poems, the students also wrote collaborative “poems from a passage” based on powerful words from a section in The Outsiders, which they have been reading in class. Ms. Gaffney noted, “Each group relayed the emotion and feeling behind each theme, showing great insight.”