A recent feature by Arizona PBS features Get Lit teachers, students, and programming. Reporter Fernanda Martinez dug deep into the program, interviewing Los Angeles teachers and students involved in the curriculum, who shared the power of poetry as a life-changing outlet for them. With literacy statistics falling short in our student’s public schools, stories like this highlight just how important our work in poetry and literacy education is.With literacy statistics falling short in our student’s public schools, stories like this highlight just how important our work in poetry and literacy education is.
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Poetry never interested Robin Power. As a high school teacher, he taught it, but it wasn’t his thing.
Then came Get Lit-Words Ignite, a program that encourages students to read poetry of their choosing, or write and perform their own individual work. It’s a contrast to having teachers choose poems and read them to the class.
No dead poets here. Get Lit puts the students in charge.
“It’s something so cool,” said Power, who teaches at Larchmont Charter School near downtown LA. “I didn’t have that experience once with poetry until we did the Get Lit program.”
“What a gift to have something like that come alive and be so meaningful, and then get (students) to think, ‘Oh, well, poetry is a force, you know, a force of expression for change,’” Power said.
For some, it’s a broadening experience.
“I had a lot of stage fright,” said Avery Hipolito, one of Power’s high school students at Larchmont. “And I think Get Lit really helped me come out of my shell and be able to share my words to people.”
Get Lit is designed to help students discover their voice in a supportive environment.
“Honestly, poetry has become my outlet to express myself,” said Sophia Bazini, another of Power’s students. “And it’s also been a way that I’ve been able to make so many connections and friendships, which is really cool.”
Get Lit also aims to increase student literacy. That’s important in a state like California and Arizona, which score lower than many others in reading literacy. In 2019, California and Arizona fourth-graders, for instance, had subpar performance compared to students in the nation overall, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The coronavirus pandemic, which forced many students to suspend attending in-person learning, deepened the problem in California. The Los Angeles Times reported this month that 58% of the students in the Los Angeles Unified District did not meet standards in English.
As a result, Power and other teachers are delighted with Get Lit, which helps keep students engaged, transforming a tedious, book-centric classroom session into one filled with open discourse, smiles and laughter.
“How could they not be more engaged,” Power asked, “if they are writing and performing poetry, seeing their peers perform and compete, going in person to a poetry competition where teenagers are pouring their heart out onstage and writing about real topics and crying?”
Dottie Burkhart, a teacher at Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, California, also praised the curriculum.
“Students are not only engaged with poetry but engaged with their own stories,” she said.
One prominent poetry professor, reached for comment, expressed hope that it can.
DeSales Harrison, who teaches at Oberlin College, said Get Lit could provide an alternative avenue for opening a young person’s world to poetry. It has the power to surprise and delight students with a newfound relationship with poetry – a “really wacky and wild experience you never could have anticipated yourself,” he said.
He went on to say, “My hope is that at some point in the future, people can discover the pleasure of having the book and have the pleasure of the company of the poet in the way that we enjoy the company of the novelist or the company of the podcast.”