8th Graders “Get Free” Through Spoken Word

Members of Movement 515 performed for Waukee Middle School on December 10. From left to right: Teacher Kristopher Rollins, Russhaun Johnson grade 10 at North/Central, Julio Delgadillo grade 9 at Hoover, Bao Luong grade 12 at North, Harry Nguyen grade 9 at North/Central, Tre Jarrett grade 8 at Harding Middle, Jasmine Inthabounh grade 8 at Harding Middle, Leah Waughtal grade 12 at North/Central, Hatte Kelly grade 11 at North/Central, Susan Stacy grade 11 at Hoover/Central and Teacher Emily Lang.

It’s not every day that students ask for more opportunities to write poetry. But that’s what happened after Movement 515 performed for Waukee Middle School (WMS) eighth graders on December 10.

For the majority of students, this was their first poetry slam experience. Eighth graders listened to eight students ranging from grades eight to 12 share their life experiences and unfiltered truths on the Prairieview Theatre Arts Center stage.

“Watching them get their emotions out on paper and then seeing them have the self-confidence to share and move an entire audience was inspirational and like nothing I had ever seen before,” Allyson Vespa, eighth-grader at WMS said.

Three years ago Des Moines Public Schools’ teachers Kristopher Rollins and Emily Lang had the idea to start a creative writing community, Movement 515, where, once a week, students and teachers from Des Moines Public Schools came together to combine the skills of writing and performance. That idea started with one student and has since grown to an average of 40-60 students participating in after-school writing workshops.

“I was amazed not just by how they performed, but the family aspect they had as poets. They supported each other. As an athlete, that was something I could connect to,” Madeline Huntley, eighth-grader at WMS said.

Waukee eighth graders have spent the last few weeks in language arts learning about poetry. The poetry unit focuses on figurative language, types, analysis, public speaking/performance skills and theme within poetry.

“In class, we have been working on finding a voice and your own perspective and applying figurative language to your writing. As a language arts teaching team we thought it was important for them to experience spoken word poetry by students their age, from a neighboring city and see how real poetry can be,” Anne Franklin, WMS language arts teacher said.

Each poet’s message was different, unique to them and completely memorized. Deejay Tre Jarrett, an eighth-grader from Harding Middle School, provided musical transitions between the performances while students used phrases like, Get Free, Go in Poet and Don’t be Nice to welcome the next performer to the stage.

“These phrases are used to encourage, give energy to and build each other up. We operate under the principle of ‘energetic reciprocity,’ the idea that collectively we have the power to build each other up and should never tear each other down,” Kristopher said.

Movement 515 allows for freedom of expression and encourages students to use their voices to speak for those who may be silenced or unable to speak for themselves. The only rules for participation are a willingness to share, perform, give/receive feedback and grow.

“You can’t pick a favorite because they were all special and honest. This has shown me that poetry can be anything you want and it doesn’t have to fit into a perfect mold. Poetry isn’t just reciting words, it’s how you move and how you deliver what you’re saying and where you put the breaks to let people think about what you just said,” Max Wiltse, WMS eighth-grader said.

After the performances, WMS students had the opportunity to participate in a writing workshop. They were read a poem and then given 12 minutes to write before being asked to share their poem with the group.

“At first, I thought this was going to be a stupid field trip. I don’t like writing and I don’t like poetry at all. But this taught me that if you write without purpose it means nothing. If you write with passion and meaning it can make a difference and affect people. I didn’t know I was going to read my poem in front of everyone, but when Kris said take your burden, leave it on the stage and walk away from it, that meant a lot to me and I wanted to do the same,” Rohan Gupta, WMS eighth-grader said.

Waukee Middle School language arts teachers Franny Frey, Jasey Reinhart, Anne Franklin, Erin Cavazos ended the show with a surprise performance of their own.

For Waukee Middle School language arts teachers Franny Frey, Jasey Reinhart, Anne Franklin, Erin Cavazos and Andrew Bastyr this experience surpassed their expectations.

“Seeing the passion and life these amazingly-talented young people put forth into their spoken word was both mesmerizing and inspiring. I hope our students will draw upon this experience and gain the courage to share their own stories,” Erin said.

Waukee Middle School currently doesn’t offer an after-school writing workshop like Movement 515, however, after the performance numerous students have expressed a desire to start their own group.

“We are hoping to start a group on Thursdays after school where student writers can come together to compose, get feedback and perform their work,” Anne said.

In the meantime, Waukee Middle School students are picking up their pencils, excited about writing and getting their emotions on paper.

“This has shown me what poetry can be and to not be afraid of who you are,” Max said.

Waukee Middle School Students take time to say Thanks!

Students in Anne Franklin’s language arts class decided instead of sending Movement 515 a thank you note, a poem performance video would be more fitting. With only 25 minutes, due to an early out Wednesday, students worked together to put into words how this group affected them.
560 Southeast University Avenue
Waukee, Iowa 50263
Phone 515.987.5161
Fax 515.987.2701