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Poetry Group Brings Together Simeon H.S. and Cook Elementary Students

 Trinity Lewis (l.) and Daysha Straight are Cook Elementary students who joined the poetry group ROYAL.
Trinity Lewis (l.) and Daysha Straight are Cook Elementary students who joined the poetry group ROYAL.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

AUBURN GRESHAM — Trinity Lewis uses poetry as an outlet.

Thanks to a partnership between her school, Cook Elementary, and Simeon High School, the 14-year-old is able to better express herself and work on public speaking.

“I write my own poetry when I get a little angry. I write when I’m bored, too,”  Trinity said. “When I write, it’s a relief of something. I feel like I’m getting something out.”

Giving young people that outlet — a voice — is what the program is all about, said Sheenita Robinson, the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation’s civic and cultural engagement coordinator.

“The overall goal is to just show mentorship,” Robinson said. “It gives them an opportunity to use their voice in a positive way, especially in light of what’s happening in our Auburn Gresham community. This is their voice, their opportunity to say, this is what’s bothering me, and I’m going to put it on a platform. We’re able to provide that for them.”

 Kendall Roberts (c.) is a Simeon junior. She volunteers her time to help Cook Elementary students with poetry.
Kendall Roberts (c.) is a Simeon junior. She volunteers her time to help Cook Elementary students with poetry.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

The community organization created the Revolution of Young Artists as Leaders poetry workshop, ROYAL, which brings Simeon’s Writers Never Die championship team into Cook Elementary, 8150 S. Bishop Ave., once a week. For six weeks, the teen wordsmiths meet with the Cook students. They’re able to discuss issues and things happening in their own communities.

“It’s really fun because I get to meet new people that I don’t usually talk to when I’m at school,” said 12-year-old Daysha Straight.

She said the high school students are “good mentors.” At first Daysha said she was shy when she began meeting, but she joined because she wanted to overcome her fears.

“I got over it because I knew I couldn't be shy all my life,” Daysha said.  “I have to conquer my fears and just go out there.”

Kendall Roberts, 16, has been working with the Cook students since last year. She said she came back again because it was a “blessing” working with them. She said she hopes ROYAL helps them express themselves.

“I want them to be able to say what they truly feel and what's on their mind,” Kendall said about the takeaway for the participants.

“They really need that expression. It's really needed in our generation now.”

The school’s new principal, Narineh Gharashor, said she’s been pleased with the collaboration.

“I thought the idea was wonderful,” Gharashor said. “One, it was going to give my students an opportunity to be leaders, and to speak up. Student voices are extremely important to me. Two, it was bringing together different organizations to work with the kids.”

Cook and Simeon aren’t the only ones benefiting from the program. Students from Illinois State University, studying to become teachers, had the opportunity to speak with the students at their poetry slam on Thursday.

The Simeon students had their groups perform. Through their work, they addressed CPS budget cuts, police brutality, life as a single parent and more. After the show, they engaged in a Q&A with the soon-to-be teachers. They were asked questions like “What do you want to see from your teachers?” Some replied by saying they want their teachers to believe in them. Another said for them to not “easily give up” on them.

Morgan Schrage, 21, of Joliet, said attending the event and engaging with the young people was beneficial.

“It was really nice to see their perspective and to understand what they needed from their teachers,” Schrage said, adding that she’s a fan of the poetry mentorship program.

“I think it’s such a good outlet," she said. "This is such a good way for them to express what they’re feeling, thinking. It’s also a safe way, too.”

Schrage said she can see herself giving her students an outlet like this when she becomes a teacher.

The ISU students are helping raise money for both Cook and Simeon. To date, they have $2,060 of their $3,000 goal. They’ll keep the fundraiser going through Dec. 10. Donate online here.

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