On May 15th and 16th, IICS hosted author in residence Elizabeth Acevedo, a national Poetry Slam Champion, Beltway Grand Slam Champion, and the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam representative for Washington, D.C. Invited by Ms. Tina Bui and the English department, Liz launched her two-day visit by performing some of her poems at the opening assemblyMonday morning and spoke about the importance of valuing our own voices and stories, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.
The native New Yorker then answered countless questions from our students, who clearly felt a connection to the writer and were inspired to produce their own poems throughout the day.
“I thought that Ms. Acevedo’s visit and live poems showed us how powerful slam poems can be and inspired some of us to start writing poems more often,” said Qais Mirza, a Grade 7 student. “Her visit also gave us some firsthand knowledge on how a professional slam poem sounds like.”
After the assembly, students joined their assigned groups for the Poetry Write-In, an all-day event devoted to giving the Secondary School community the space and time to write freely. The English department also ran various optional breakout sessions to help students develop their poetic voice and solicited volunteers to perform at the following day’s Poetry Slam.
It was evident students were drawn to Ms. Acevedo’s dynamic energy. The poet, whose work is described as being “infused with Dominican bolero and her beloved city’s tough grit”, popped into various classrooms to meet with students one-on-one. She listened to their stories and ideas, gave suggestions and feedback and encouraged students to perform at the Poetry Slam the next day. By the end of day, as students headed to their buses, a number of writers approached Ms. Acevedo, asking her to read their pieces, even though they were not keen on performing their work in front of a crowd. Her goal— to give students the confidence to find their own voice and to talk about their own experiences and perspectives— seemed to hit home for the IICS community.
The students who volunteered to perform spent Tuesday morning working with Ms. Acevedo directly on editing and performing their poems in preparation for the Poetry Slam, an invite-only event. Expecting just a small number of students to have the courage to perform, we were all delighted when around 30 of our students stepped up to share their work with a selected audience.
The Poetry Slam on the 16th was, perhaps, one of the most memorable events that we have run at IICS in recent years. Students who were not known for speaking out in class were on stage reading out their poems, some of which were based on deep, personal experiences.
“The poetry slam was a great experience to learn more about the people in our community and see them from a different perspective,” remarked Grade 8 student Ayla Saruhan. “I saw them more as people rather than peers and I think it was a great way to get people expressing themselves.”
“Ms. Acevedo’s poems were truly inspiring and I was left mesmerized, wanting to listen to more of her work, said Eleanor Dirlik, a Grade 8 student who performed at the Poetry Slam. “Her hard work since she was 14 and her fulfilling her dreams is uplifting to those (of us) who also love poetry.”
The poetry performances produced tears, laughter, new understandings and a deeper sense of empathy throughout the room, and it was clear: nobody really wanted the event to come to an end. Some of our teachers also shared their work, and others came along to see their students shining in a different light.
Ms. Acevedo described the event a ‘highlight of her career’ and wrote, “It was an absolute pleasure to work with your students. People keep asking me how Turkey was and I can’t stop spouting the amazing work I saw happening at IICS. You all are creating something truly special and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it for a bit.”
We hope to invite her again next year for a follow-up event to give more of our students the opportunity to share their work and develop the courage to find their voice.