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Loud Writers

Big Tree Arts

The Big Tree Arts Loud Writers program brings four visiting writers to Boise to teach workshops to students enrolled in English courses at alternative high schools. Students who participate in the Loud Writers’ workshops attend alternative schools because they often face challenges in regular schools. Spoken word teaches literacy and writing skills but does so through a means that at-risk youth can use their own self-reflection as content. In turn, they are engaged with the writing and are encouraged to share it out loud amongst their peers and instructors.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How does spoken word poetry affect students’ self expression and ability to communicate?

Students at alternative schools are often faced with more challenges in school and outside of school than regular students. Not only are students challenged to write and contemplate new ways of expressing themselves, but they are encouraged to read their work in front of the class. Teachers have told teaching writers that they see students who are typically quiet become more confident as they read their work out loud. One student expressed on a questionnaire after Will Gibson’s writing workshop that he/she likes to write about “my thoughts, views on what’s happening in my reality..[and] inner feelings expressed through thoughts.” When asked, “In what ways should people express their thoughts and opinions?” the student replied, “In any ways that’s healthy whether its through writing or talking to people or even figurative dance just anything that relieves you and gets your feelings out in a way that helps you.” This student, among others, has learned that writing is a positive way to be self-expressive and understand the importance of discussing your inner feelings in some way. For students who may not encounter other resources for self-care or self-expression, the Loud Writers workshop is a powerful learning tool.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

“I think people should express their [thoughts and opinions] any way they can, nonviolently that is, through writing, music, dance, speech, etc.”

“I like poetry, and I like how people are good at expressing their thoughts through poetry…”

“I usually like to write about my problems and my thoughts. It makes me feel better.”

Impact

Around 100 students were impacted through multiple schools and workshops, and many continue to attend our monthly all ages slam events where they present their writing to the community. Students practiced writing, learned poetic form and how to perform in public. An unexpected impact was on a visiting writer from Phoenix. She was so taken by the spoken word community here in Boise that a few months later, she moved here. She is now an integral part of the community and can act as a visiting writer assistant or as a workshop instructor for future programming.

Reflection

We have positive relationships with all the teachers and students we’ve encountered, and have heard the testimony of the effect our program has on students. Our biggest goal for the coming years is to grow so that we reach more students and schools. Though our prominent mission is to work with nontraditional students, I believe all students can benefit from the workshops we offer. We recently presented to an English class at Meridian High School to encourage more students to attend our all ages slam event at Meridian Silverstone Branch Library. The teacher there said something along the lines of, “Our student population is so diverse and our students deal with just as many challenges. They would benefit just as much as alternative students.” I’ve always thought this is true, though our budget only allows for so many schools. I would love to spread our program so that more students can benefit from the writing programs we offer. A big part of what we do is help students feel included when they may feel marginalized at times. Many of these students find themselves in big public schools, and giving them a space and a voice to express themselves can mean a world of difference.

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