SPOKEN WORD

FINDING AND CULTIVATING UNIQUE VOICES

Reading, Writing And Performing Poetry

Build communication skills…

through reading, writing and performing poetry on topics relevant to kids’ experiences.

Empower students…

to find and cultivate their unique voices for personal growth and civic engagement.

 

Strengthen community…

by creating a safe place for sharing personal stories and cultural understanding.

Connect to the larger world…

of Spoken Word through mentorship, showcases, and competitions.

CREATING ARTICULATE, ENGAGED YOUNG PEOPLE


Launched in Fall 2015, Spoken Word is a powerful and effective medium for fostering creativity and self-expression in young people.

Through both in-school residencies and extracurricular clubs, students learn to write and revise poems that reflect their own unique experiences, interests, and opinions. They then have opportunities to share their poetry in safe and supportive space.

Kids learn to collaborate creatively and to respond to each other’s work in a thoughtful and constructive manner.

The program consists of 3 main components:

  1. teacher professional development for 7th grade English Language Arts teachers at Brooks and Julian Middle Schools, as well as two Spoken Word club sponsors at each middle school
  2. week-long classroom residencies serving all 6th & 7th grade English Language Arts classes
  3. an extracurricular club open to all 6th, 7th, and 8th graders

We bring in teaching artists to co-facilitate our residencies and clubs. We partner with Oak Park River Forest High School’s stellar Spoken Word program, and high school students mentor our middle school Spoken Word club members. This year, we will attend the Louder Than A Bomb slam as audience members, perform at various community locales, and host a Julian vs. Brooks slam at the Oak Park School of Rock.

SPOKEN WORD:

  • brings in teaching artists to mentor students
  • engages all students with topics relevant to their personal experiences
  • creates a strong classroom and school community
  • helps students find their unique voices and connects them to the wider world

Spoken Word

District 97 Parent

“The Spoken Word program spearheaded by OPEF makes me wish I was a 7th grader….I feel like my kid is attending a boutique middle school.”

Spoken Word

District 97 Student

“I liked how we got to speak in front of people and become more comfortable in front of an audience.”

Spoken Word

Spoken Word Teaching Artist

“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.”

Spoken Word News

Creative Collaboration With Spoken Word

Creative Collaboration With Spoken Word

Brooks Middle School 7th graders are being encouraged to write poems about what’s important to them in their daily lives. Spoken Word teaching artist Mo Santiago, one of our latest Oak Park Education Foundation additions to the team, led last week's class...

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Voices Shake the House at School of Rock

Voices Shake the House at School of Rock

OPEF Spoken Word students shook the house at the School of Rock with their raw honesty and powerful words last week. The poetry slam, titled Respect the Mic, fostered creativity and self-expression while giving kids the opportunity to speak about their...

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“WE CAN’T DO IT WITHOUT YOU”

$250 Sponsors a week-long residency of a Spoken Word visiting artist.

Joel Javier

ARTS COORDINATOR (FOR SPOKEN WORD & ART START)

Joel earned his MA in Art Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and BFA from Murray State University. Joel has experience teaching in museum & community art settings, and was instrumental in expanding public programming as well as advancing an award-winning fellowship programs for teachers. Joel has served as the Arts Coordinator for Art Start & Spoken Word since 2019.

Connect with Joel at joeljavier@opef.org

Spoken Word Residencies 

TWO SCHOOLS, 18 CLASSROOMS
Mo Santiago, Teaching Artist @ Brooks and Julian

Spoken Word Club

CLUB SPONSORS, John Colucci @ Julian and Miles Lee @ Brooks
TEACHING ARTIST @ Brooks and Julian, Christian Robinson

Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF OPEF'S SPOKEN WORD PROGRAM?

In January 2015, Spoken Word was selected through our first Call for Ideas process in six years. The “Call” brought in 78 excellent ideas plus some great feedback from nearly 1,000 of our middle schoolers. The OPEF staff and Board – made up of community members, parents, teachers, and District 97 leaders – carefully reviewed all of the ideas. Each of the proposals submitted was subjected to “blind reviews,” that is, submitters’ names and/or organizations were deleted and every proposal was scored by each participant across seven criteria. Then the top-rated ideas were discussed extensively and matched against the overall mission of OPEF until the group determined a clear winner: SPOKEN WORD.

Seed funding for the launch of Spoken Word was provided by the Peter Traczyk Innovation Fund.

WHO CAN JOIN THE OPEF SPOKEN WORD CLUB?
While our in-school residencies are focused on 6th and 7th graders, the club is open to all Brooks and Julian students. We hope to attract a wide range of students who will continue with the Spoken Word throughout their time in middle school, and maybe even into high school and beyond!
HOW WILL YOU RECRUIT STUDENTS FOR THE CLUBS?

All 6th and 7th graders participate in a week-long Spoken Word residency in their Language Arts class during the fall, which culminates with a grade-wide poetry slam. Information about the club will be shared during both the residency and the slam. Additionally, Language Arts teachers have been asked to help identify students who might excel as Spoken Word Club members.

WILL STUDENTS IN THE CLUB HAVE TO PERFORM THEIR POEMS OUT LOUD?

Spoken Word is about fostering creativity, self-expression, and a sense of community. Students will be coached and guided as poets and performers, but no one will be forced to perform. However, don’t be surprised if some of the quietest students end up displaying the strongest voices on stage! Our stellar teaching artists and club sponsors have a way of encouraging young people to speak up and speak out.

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PERSUADE MIDDLE SCHOOLERS TO OPEN UP AND SHARE THEIR FEELINGS?
While it’s true that Spoken Word encourages students to write honestly about their own identities and experiences, a middle school student’s honesty looks very different than that of a high school student or an adult poet. Our teaching artists are skilled at choosing sample poems and crafting prompts that speak to the interests and maturity level of a middle school student. Students will learn to write vividly and creatively about their own ideas and experiences. They will also practice being supportive team members.