At-risk teens thrive as creators of poetry and art; incarcerated teens give author “one of the most intellectually astute and challenging book discussions I have ever been a part of”.
By Amy Korpieski, Reference Librarian, Clark State Community College
Clark State Community College (CSCC) Library looks for ways to connect with students, other college programs, and our community. Choose to Read Ohio (CTRO) provided the framework for a unique collaboration between our community college library, an arts outreach program, and teens. Along the way, we forged a connection with the high school and gained support from the public library. CTRO allowed us to create a project that had significant, direct impact on teens (and adults) in our community. It was also deeply satisfying to me as a librarian.
Project Jericho is an arts outreach collaboration between Clark State Performing Arts Center and Job and Family Services of Clark County. Project Jericho provides positive, in-depth arts experiences for at-risk youth in our community. Project Jericho was a natural choice for a CTRO project involving Jaime Adoff’s The Death of Jayson Porter – a powerful, contemporary teen novel with a protagonist who is definitely “at-risk.” One librarian and two Project Jericho staff worked together and quickly found exciting ways to pair the novel, the CSCC library, and Project Jericho with teens.
Project Jericho used the novel, a visit from Adoff, and the CSCC library as the basis for a workshop leading up to their annual poetry slam. Teens met at the CSCC library twice a week for a month to write original poetry. The slam was held in our building. The poems, printed in large format, became the library’s spring quarter art display and were the most attention-grabbing show we’ve hosted. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet teens we might never otherwise meet. We made the teens welcome in our library, helped them get to know at least one librarian, and put CSCC on their radar. As one teen said to me, “I could go here? Yeah, I could go here.” Meet the teens by viewing the commercial they created for the poetry slam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJw-TNxMdxs.
Adoff’s visit to the college was bolstered by the participation of English 111 classes and high school students. Students wrote literary and personal responses in a back-and-forth conversation with an incarcerated teen also reading the novel. Laura, a CSCC student, wrote a journal entry typical of many: “Not being an avid reader, I was surprised that I finished reading the book in only three sittings. Mr. Adoff was the first author to keep my interest so that I would finish.” The high school had recently lost a student to suicide, so the chance to read and respond to this novel was therapeutic for many students. The high school librarian was excited to be approached by CSCC. She recruited students to give book talks to English classes. The high school art department also got involved via a bookmark contest (which was suggested by Arnold Adoff, Jaime’s manager and father). Adoff told us an evening author talk would be a hard sell – but teens were excited to find out if they had won the bookmark contest and came out on a cold and snowy February evening. The event was also publicized by the public library. They were without a teen librarian at the time but the Director lent support to the project.
The biggest impact of this project was felt in the Project Jericho program at the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center. Pre-reading surveys showed incarcerated teens were not readers and did not think books had “characters like me,” but the novel had found the perfect audience. Every teen in detention completed the book. One teen even woke his cellmate in the middle of the night when he finished, just to have someone to talk it over with. Every teen also aced a comprehension test and earned the right to attend Adoff’s author visit. As Adoff wrote in his blog, “The youth had not just read [the book], but completely internalized every broad and small stroke of my pen.” Adoff also used his blog to credit his visit with the teens in detention as “one of the most intellectually astute and challenging book discussions I have ever been a part of.”
But it is the way the teens themselves talk about the experience that makes me feel such deep satisfaction with the project. Teens were allowed to read Adoff’s blog (http://www.jaimeadoff.com/blog.htm?post=670761) and respond. This quote is typical of what the teens had to say:
"Your recent visit was unimagenble, inspiring and a once in a lifetime opputunity. Not just for me but the whole entire facility.I have never read a book that was so related to the real life struggle not just Jayson but every character in your amazing novel. Meeting you was so much of a honor your more than a author your a real life super hero.I have told many peole about your book when i write them back home.I tell them how your story has inspired a juvenile delinquent. My life,my thoughts and my story have a major part of you in them now."
Teens in detention worked with a Project Jericho artist to create graffiti panels featuring the opening poem from Jayson Porter and lines from their own poetry. These panels are now a permanent part of the Detention Center’s library. The panels were on display at the CSCC Library last spring quarter, along with the poems from the poetry slam. The CSCC Library shows art on a regular basis, but the poems and graffiti panels made students and faculty stop in their tracks.
I work six hours a week at the CSCC Library. During the project I sometimes worked eight hours a week. Partners at Project Jericho and the high school handled their events. Project Jericho and I worked as a team to write the proposal and to manage the logistics, overall organization, and budget. As the grant administrator, I was responsible for reporting. The State Library of Ohio is the best partner, and their support makes it possible for anyone to Choose to Read Ohio.
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