OPEF_SpokenWordWe recently caught up with Anne McNamee-Keels to ask her how the planning for OPEF’s the new Spoken Word program is going. She answered a few questions about the program, which will launch in District 97 middle schools in October of this year.

What are the goals for Spoken Word?

When the Oak Park Education Foundation’s review board chose Spoken Word as their newest offering, a development committee went to work imagining the program. This committee ultimately developed the following program goals:

  • Engage all students, including those on the academic or social margins, by examining topics relevant to kids’ experiences.
  • Build literacy and communication skills through reading, writing and performing poetry.
  • Empower students to find and cultivate their unique voices for personal growth and civic engagement.
  • Strengthen classroom and school community by creating a safe place for sharing personal stories and cultural understanding.
  • Connect students to larger world of Spoken Word – high school, Chicago and beyond – through mentorship, showcases, and competitions.

When will Spoken Word launch?

The classroom component of the program is set to launch in October 2015, with regular extracurricular club meetings beginning in December 2015.

What are the main components of the program?

The program consists of 3 main components:

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

What will the kids get out of Spoken Word?

Spoken Word is an incredibly effective medium for fostering creativity and self-expression in young people. Through both our in-school residencies and our extracurricular club, students will learn to write and revise poems that reflect their own unique experiences, interests, and opinions.  They will then have opportunities to share their poetry in safe and supportive space. Additionally, students will learn to collaborate creatively and to respond to each other’s work in a thoughtful and constructive manner.

How will the classroom residencies be structured?

Our week-long classroom residencies will take place within all 7th grade English Language Arts classes at both Julian and Brooks. These residencies will be a partnership between a 7th grade ELA teacher and a contracted teaching artist. Each ELA teacher will collaborate with a teaching artist to develop and implement a week-long Spoken Word unit rooted in that teacher’s regular curriculum. Each unit will comprise four days of instruction, culminating with an in-class poetry slam on that Friday. One slam finalist from each class will then compete at a mini-slam attended by all 7th grade students.

What will the Spoken Word clubs look like?

Once all of our classroom residencies have taken place, our extracurricular Spoken Word clubs will kick off! The clubs will be open to all 6th, 7th, and 8th students. Both the Julian and Brooks clubs will meet on Monday afternoons from 3:30-5:00pm and Thursday mornings from 8:00-8:45am. Each club will be facilitated by two teacher-sponsors and one teaching artist. Additionally, we will be lucky enough to have high school students from OPRF’s stellar Spoken Word club attending our Monday sessions and serving as mentors to the middle school students.

During club meetings, students will write and perform original poetry reflecting their own individual identities. This year, students will take a field trip to see other students compete in Louder Than A Bomb, a poetry slam event open to students across the Chicagoland area.  Students will then have the chance to compete in their own Julian vs. Brooks poetry slam, which will be hosted by the Oak Park School of Rock.

How will you be connecting to the larger Spoken Word community in the Chicago area?

We are very lucky to be located in the Chicagoland area, where Spoken Word poetry has a deep and complex history. By bringing on outside teaching artists to co-facilitate our residencies and clubs, we will have the opportunity for collaboration between middle school teachers and working Spoken Word artists. We are also thrilled to be partnering with Oak Park River Forest High School’s stellar Spoken Word program, and some OPRF students will be serving as mentors to our middle school Spoken Word club members. This year, we also plan to tap into the larger Chicago area Spoken Word community through attending the Louder Than A Bomb slam as audience members. At LTAB, students will get to know young Spoken Word poets from schools across the Chicagoland area. In future years, we plan to send our own teams to participate in the slam as poets.