Poetry Partnership Helps Students Find Their Voice

For a high school student, performing your poetry before the Secretary of Education is probably a little nerve-racking.  But if Luis Zelaya, a senior at Columbia Heights Education Campus in Washington, DC, was feeling any nerves, he certainly didn’t show it at Monday’s President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Poetry Workshop at the Library of Congress.  Zelaya, reflecting on his youth in DC, read his poem “Memories” with power and emotion:

…Those good ole days,
With police and the jail visits,
The CIA and immigration,
And lonely nights with no one to tuck me in.

…I remember those days,
Which I worked out alone,
Which I exceeded without you,
Which I ate my burnt food,
Yea, I remember.

Monday’s event was the culmination of eight weekly workshops and tutoring sessions hosted by a partnership between the President’s Committee, the nonprofit 826DC and four DC-area public high schools.  The poetry workshops allowed students to work with poetry professors from American and Georgetown universities, and now that the workshops are complete, the students will publish an anthology of their poetry.

Secretary Duncan speaks with Luis Zelaya, a high school senior at Columbia Heights Educational Campus.

Speaking to Secretary Duncan and to the students and educators in attendance, Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities noted that, “Arts education in schools is a key strategy to getting kids engaged, keeping them in school, increasing academic success and building the kind of creativity and innovative thinking we need in today’s economy and workforce.”

Secretary Duncan spoke of the importance of providing a well-rounded education before turning the floor over to the students. “One of the most important things we can do as educators is to help all our young people find their voice,” he said. “It may be poetry, art, debate, robotics or even sports, but there is a genius in every single one of our young people….When you have students who can find their voice, who can find their passion, and who can find out what they love to do and what they can excel in, I feel very confident about where they’ll go in life.”

You can read more about the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities by visiting www.pcah.gov, and check out poetry resources from the federal government at ED’s Federal Resources for Educational Excellence site.