By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager
Those awkward early teen years: No longer a child, not yet an adult. It could feel like developmental purgatory. Enduring the onset of emotions, hormones and insecurities in middle school can be particularly daunting. Not only are kids dealing with the changes in their bodies, they are also struggling to fit into a new environment.
“In elementary kids are innocent, whimsical and free to express themselves,” says Will Richey, creator of DaVerse Lounge, an open mic spoken word event produced in partnership by Big Thought and Journeyman Ink. “When they get to middle school, they are starting to lose that innocence and that freedom to express themselves.”
Not if Richey can help it.
Richey, along with DaVerse Lounge partner and co-mentor Alejandro Perez, Jr. , brought the “Power of Voice” to 875 students at Scott Morgan Johnson Middle School in McKinney. Throughout the course of five weekdays earlier this month, Richey and Perez presented their workshop for 6th graders, 7th graders and 8th graders.
“Power of Voice” would serve as much more than a creative, social and emotional learning exercise for fidgety adolescents. It recharged teachers, administrators, and even school principal Mitchell Curry, who made a guest appearance.
The hour-long workshop, which Richey says he’s conducted off and on for a decade, unfolded in three components, an interactive performance, a writing activity and a group share. It began with an empowering warm up from Perez, including an energizing chant – “I am creative. I am original. I can do anything I put my mind to.”
Then it was time to get to work. This work involves creating a safe haven for self-expression. “From the Page to the Stage” launched with a DaVerse Lounge video highlighting Serenity, a student who used spoken word to process the tumultuous periods of her young life. The title of Serenity’s poem, “I Just Thought You Should Know” became a writing exercise for the kids, one they would share with everyone else in that warmly lit school library.
Everybody in the room, from students to teachers to administrators to even this diligent scribe, revealed something we thought you should know.
“As I observed the workshop led by Will and Alejandro, I realized that these students, not so long ago innocent, were in need of affirmation and an outlet for their voice,” says Barbara Kinast, Scott Morgan Johnson Middle School’s Media Resource Specialist. “The workshop week was incredibly joyful and inspiring for students and staff alike.”
No doubt Perez’s warm-up sets the tone for the hour of heart-on-the-sleeve exploration.
“My challenge has always been to find that happy medium,” says Perez. “I’m all about structuring a fearless environment and soulfully preparing a creative space. “
That sanctuary of communication lays the groundwork for a most beneficial partnership. Kinast requested the DaVerse curriculum developed by Big Thought in partnership with Journeyman Ink so that she can spearhead a DaVerse club at the campus.
“I saw how the workshop had energized the school culture and I didn’t want that to just fizzle and die,” says Kinast. “I would like to try to keep some of that energy going on my campus by maintaining a place where students feel safe to express themselves and are praised for their bravery.“
Richey immediately points to the power of the partnership between DaVerse Lounge and Big Thought. He instantly sees the big picture, how A walks over to B and then dances with C.
“What we’re doing, not only is it life giving to the students, but it’s also rejuvenating to the teachers,” he says. “That is why the partnership between DaVerse Lounge and Big Thought is so powerful. It should always be about the kids, but DaVerse Lounge and Daverse Works helps rejuvenate adults and educators as it helps us reconnect with our childhood innocence.”
Along the way one kid walks the bridge closing the gap between childhood innocence and teenage expression.
DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, State Farm and the Dallas Mavericks for the generous support. To check out the Serenity video, click here.