Where does hope go when amazing grace becomes graceless
and the only hands left to hold are sweaty and quivering in fear?
Those lines were written and performed by Jessica, a student at the DreamYard Preparatory School in the Bronx. Jessica learned about writing poetry and performing her written work, through a program run by Global Writes, a literacy nonprofit that brings resident poets into inner-city middle schools to teach poetry and performance.
"At the time, slam poetry or hip hop poetry was the thing," Fico told AOL News. "It was engaging the kids."
Ellrodt and Fico tapped New York City's vibrant slam poetry community, bringing the poets into the classrooms to share their experience and skills with students. "Invariably these were artists of color," said Ellrodt. "And the kids would get to see and learn from folks that looked like them and see what it was like to be a professional writer and artist."
Global Writes always partners with a local arts group who provides a resident poet or writer. The poet then works with students in the classroom and helps them write their own poems.
"We work with local artists so the program is built around the characteristics of the community we're working in," said Ellrodt.
The students practice performing their poems in front of their peers, who provide constructive feedback. At the end of the program the students' work culminates in a slam poetry tournament in which kids compete against 40 classes from area schools via video conferencing. A panel of judges award points and trophies at the conclusion for the best team performance.
The video conferencing technology is a large part of the program. It provides the students with an audience of peers and also introduces teachers to new technology in the classroom. The students practice performing their poems by recording them on an iPod, and the teachers also use flip video cameras to tape students.
In the 13 years that Global Writes has been teaching kids poetry, the participating schools have seen remarkable results. The organization compared data between schools-those that have Global Writes in classroom, the others without.
In the schools that had Global Writes, "absenteeism dropped dramatically and motivation increased," Ellrodt said. The students' state assessment scores rose faster than those of kids who weren't in the program, and the students were more likely to plan on college after going through the program.
"It changes the way these kids think, by teaching writing in a way that makes it meaningful to them," he said.
The non-profit experienced so much success they expanded from the Bronx to neighboring New York communities; Queens, Nyack, N.Y., and Yonkers, N.Y. Later the group brought the program to Chicago's inner-city schools and will be in classrooms in San Francisco this fall.
And according to its founders, Global Writes is poised to truly go global.
"We are working with kids who speak multiple languages; Spanish, Haitian Creole, so clearly the language barrier isn't a difficult thing to get past," Ellrodt told AOL News. The group set up a competition between schools in Chicago, the Bronx and London via video conferencing, and have also set up video conferences for students to share their poems with kids in Tokyo and Hong Kong.
"The kids perform for audiences of kids that they would have never met in their lives," said Fico.