By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
MARCH 11, 2014 – Seventh-grader Janiyah Springs likes to write poetry.
“Things I am afraid to say out loud I write it down,” said Janiyah. “It’s telling yourself that at least I tried to put it out there what I was feeling.”
Janiyah goes to Philo-Hill Magnet Academy, and poet Josephus Thompson spent several days there last week working with students in their classrooms. He helped them explore other types of creative writing in addition to poetry and talked about the importance of developing vocabulary and the skills necessary to write well.
For Janiyah, the experience helped her feel more confident about what she is doing. “Now I know how valuable writing is – period – because of him,” she said.
Seventh-grader Destiny Yancey said it helped her see that poetry is about much more than just rhyming.
Teacher Alexandria Thompson said that Josephus Thompson sparked an enthusiasm for writing in the students. “It got them to write and they seem to have written more for him than us,” she said.
Working with him also helped the students see that writing well is a skill that will serve them in life, she said. And he helped them to be more respectful of their classmates’ thoughts and opinions.
The students looked forward to Thompson coming each day, said teacher Heather Dirks. “They have asked every day, ‘When is he coming back?’…It’s engaging for them…It’s making connections.”
Heather Scales, the school’s magnet resource coordinator, said, “The children get more involved and want to learn more about language.”
The original plan called for Thompson to bring a couple of artist friends – Justin Dorsey and Tiffanie McCall – on Friday to perform for students in the school’s auditorium. With school out because of the weather on Friday, that was rescheduled for Monday.
Thompson played the drum. Dorsey played the guitar, and McCall sang. Sometimes, they performed songs. Sometimes, Thompson recited his poems, many written so that it seemed as if he was talking directly to the students. And sometimes he did talk directly to the students. When he did, he often returned to the importance of words as a way to communicate with others and the importance of believing in themselves.
Thompson, who lives in Greensboro, has developed an education program for schools called The Poetry Project that has taken him to such cities as Washington and San Francisco. He was invited to Philo-Hill by curriculum coordinator Kara Brooks, who had worked with him at Flat Rock Middle School during the 2012-13 school year. Thompson also worked with students at Forsyth Middle College earlier this school year.
His time at Philo-Hill had been a good experience for students, Brooks said. “It gives them exposure. A lot of them haven’t seen real artists before. It’s also letting them know that poetry can be fun.”
Principal Kenyatta Bennett said, “This gives them the opportunity to see poetry in motion – poetry alive.”
Thompson coming to the school brought other benefits as well, Bennett said. By putting together his education programs for schools, Thompson has become an entrepreneur as well as poet and seeing that can help students see career possibilities for their talents.