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Parents Bulletin Board

DA teams up with Rogers-Herr Middle School for poetry slam
Posted 02/22/2018 05:51PM

One after the other, they funneled their emotions — frustration, hope, grief, anger, love, disappointment — into the microphone. A bright spotlight cast upon the students on stage obscured the fact, at least for a few minutes, that Durham Academy Middle School’s Taylor Hall was packed with a couple hundred fellow middle schoolers who were hanging on their every word.

Monday marked the third annual Durham Academy/Rogers-Herr Poetry Slam, which started as a way to teach poetic devices in a dramatic way while connecting with the broader community. It is now among the most highly anticipated events of the year for eighth-graders.

Alternating between 11 DA students and 10 from nearby Rogers-Herr Middle School, the poets took on a variety of personal topics as they performed their original works, from the sting of unfair stereotypes and the challenges of growing up in a nontraditional family, to gender identity and anxiety.

“It’s clear that there are threads throughout — common insecurities and common struggles,” language arts teacher Ben Michelman said. “But it’s also clear how people have very different experiences. And that’s not necessarily Rogers-Herr vs. Durham Academy being different, but we see that kids have their own individual battles and could be labeled in very different ways.”  

Michelman and fellow DA language arts teacher Jeff Boyd have partnered with Rogers-Herr language arts teacher Keaundra Robinson on the poetry slam since 2016. Robinson described the collaboration as beneficial in a number of ways: from an opportunity for the teachers involved to learn from one another, to teaching subject matter in a way that feels true to her while aligning with a Common Core standard, to a chance for all of the students involved to be heard and to appreciate a range of perspectives.

“What the poetry slam allows our children to see right away is, whether I don’t have the same background as somebody or I do share the same background as someone, our opinions and perspectives may vary, or our opinions and perspectives may be the same — and it’s OK,” Robinson said. “We can still show tact, we can still show respect and we can still be open-minded. And more importantly, we’re still learning and growing.”

For all three of the teachers involved, the slam — with poets’ raw emotions and experiences on display — serves as an opportunity to demonstrate the power that comes with vulnerability.

DA eighth-grader Asia Crowley’s poem, “Cliques and Solid Bricks,” addressed her frustration with navigating complicated friend groups.

“I was really scared about talking about this, especially when I was chosen to perform it in front of the whole grade,” she said. “I was scared that people wouldn't like it and would be rude about it because it is a sensitive topic, but the results were overwhelmingly positive. … A lot of people came up to me afterward and said, hey I really liked your poem. That really needed to be said.”

Each DA eighth-grader writes slam poems — which aren’t intended to be read off a page but instead are memorized and performed with great effect — in language arts class. The process of writing the poems can be cathartic for students, and it has on occasion served as an opportunity for Boyd and Michelman to learn of a concern and help a student find support.

After revisions are complete, each student performs their poem for their individual class, and then the classmates all vote on which poems should be included in the slam with Rogers-Herr. The slam is attended by a few dozen Rogers-Herr students, all DA seventh- and eighth-graders and several faculty members.

“I've never done any large public speaking before, and I don't really like doing that kind of stuff,” explained DA student Matthew Woodard, whose poem focused on his grief after his grandmother’s passing. “But when I was voted to do this, I just realized that I could be one of eighth-graders to inspire seventh-graders, like what happened to me. So I decided I wanted to take this opportunity and perform.”

After the slam’s roster was set, Middle School drama teacher Ellen Brown worked with the students on their presentation. DA eighth-grader Julie Kim — whose poem chronicled her experiences from her birth in South Korea, to living as a North Carolinian teenager who struggles to speak her native tongue — said she found the actual performance the most challenging aspect of the process and thanked Brown for her help in preparing.

“Getting up in front of a room I actually like better because I would rather share in a big group — especially because like the lights are on you, so you can't really see anyone,” Kim said. “So I kind of just ignored everything else and just did it.”

And lessons aren’t only learned by the students who are chosen to present their work at the slam.

“I actually think one of my favorite things is the response from the rest of the group when they are given the privilege of hearing someone's story that they would never otherwise ask for,” Boyd said. “I think it has just a significant impact on the audience as it does the actual poet.”

For Robinson, the collaborative slam serves as opportunity for young and old alike to learn a valuable life lesson.

“The older we get, the more sheltered we become and the more afraid we are,” she said. “To see our kids in that poetry slam, those little children are teaching grown-ups how can we talk about some difficult topics in a way in which we’re feeling safe and everybody’s still whole in the end, if not more whole and complete.”



View photos from the slam on Flickr.

Parent Events
  • March 2019
    • MonMar25 CavClassifieds Ad Deadline
  • April 2019
    • SatApr06 Benefit Auction 6:30 PM
    • ThuApr18 Parents Association General Membership Meeting 8:15 AMBrumley Performing Arts Building
    • WedApr24 CavClassifieds Ad Deadline
  • May 2019
    • WedMay22 Parents Council Luncheon and Meeting Brumley Performing Arts Building (Lower School)
    • FriMay24 CavClassifieds Ad Deadline
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