This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
WEST CHESTER — West Chester Henderson High School’s Jen Gallagher had planned the assembly to be different, but with time constraints, she had to change some ideas around. However, what came out of the Power of Identity: Cultural Celebration left an impact with the students.
“The idea was that we were trying, originally, to have students perform — write poetry or spoken word pieces and perform themselves — but because we didn’t have a lot of time to plan for something like that, we decided that the students probably wouldn’t be ready,” she said. “We decided to incorporate some other models for them to see for this upcoming school year.”
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Instead, Gallagher reached out to people within the West Chester Area School District, other nearby schools and even down to Philadelphia.
“We reached out to people within the school district who we knew would be comfortable or thought might be comfortable writing a piece and presenting it in front of the school,” she said. “We also contacted a former Henderson graduate who does spoken word. From there, it just kind of stemmed out and we got some other contacts. The highlight was that we had two young poets from the Philly Youth Poetry Movement.”
All told, seven poets or spoken word artists, an a cappella group from Henderson and the Step Team and gospel choir from Coatesville Area Senior High School agreed to perform.
The idea behind the assembly wasn’t necessarily about race or culture, but more about the identity of one’s self.
“What I told the artists is that it was about identity, so however you identify yourself, whatever you think about — culture, religion, however you see yourself,” Gallagher said.
The performers went on in front of a packed auditorium in Henderson Thursday morning, filled with a mix of all the grades.
When the students found out it was a poetry assembly, Gallagher said the students didn’t seem too happy, but it all changed afterward.
“The Philly Youth Poets were fabulous,” she said. “They have obviously done this many times and they got up there and they explained to the students this is how you do this. (They told them) if they were feeling it, they can snap or feel free to say, “Mmh hmm,’ or ‘Oh yeah.’ The kids got really, really into it. The feedback from the students was very, very positive.”
For having to throw it all together after the change pretty quickly, Gallagher was more than happy with the way it turned out and the way it reached out to the students — and it was all funded by a mini-grant from the West Chester Area Education Foundation.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what this all was going to look like,” she said. “I had a copy of the poems, but I didn’t know how dynamic and how inspirational those youth poets would be for everyone. They talked about race, they talked about culture and they talked about difficult situations in their own lives. I really think that it touched and inspired so many of our students.”
With the success of the first year, the plan is to have it again, this time with the original plan in place as well.
“The goal is to do next year what we were hoping to do this year,” Gallagher said. “Now that we’ve shown our students what they can do, the goal is to give them some writing workshops and have them begin to express themselves and find their own personal growth through writing and then learn to present some of their pieces.”