Work of RunDSM at DMPS is Rising to New Heights

rundsmpoetryslamIt’s poetry in motion.

It’s a “dream come true,” according to the teachers who created the creative monster.

It’s RunDSM in all of its many-splendored forms, the extracurricular offshoot that sprouted four years ago from a cutting edge class at Harding Middle School and is now poised to branch out across the district.

The program’s second annual Teen Poetry Slam will happen on Thursday, April 3rd at the Temple for Performing Arts, an event where 18 spoken-word teen poets will compete for six spots on the team that will represent the district at the Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Festival this summer in Philadelphia.

They’re always high-powered, but this particular RunDSM production promises to be extra energized thanks to the news that beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, Des Moines Public Schools will officially adopt RunDSM.

With the help of a team of visionary teachers (Kayla O’Connor, Kortny Williamson, Mindy Euken-Cadenillas, Hannah Harmsen, Tiffany Strim, Alex Caskey, Melissa Daniels and Cassie Kendzora), program founders Kristopher Rollins and Emily Lang will transition from teaching at Harding Middle School to teaching half-time at Central Campus and otherwise serving as the district’s Urban Arts Coordinators. The task force they’ve assembled is charged with establishing RunDSM programming at each of the DMPS high schools.

“If you’d asked me four years ago, after losing my first teaching job due to budget cuts and the economic crisis, what good would come out of the situation, I couldn’t have imagined this,” said Lang, overlooking the fact that that’s exactly what she and Rollins have done. “At that point, all I knew was I had fallen in love with kids who had been dealt a more difficult set of cards and I desperately wanted to remain in their lives. These kids have given me more than I can ever repay them, but I am sure going to try.”

Whatever the debt, there has already been substantial reciprocity (the “energetic” kind they insist upon) in the form of the Minorities on the Move summer program, weekly Movement 515 writing workshops and a series of Share the Mic spoken word poetry events that allow the kids to be heard “getting free” on subjects that matter most to them while also benefiting area nonprofit organizations. And this year Lang and Rollins began teaching a class in Urban Leadership at Central Campus aimed at training a generation of community change agents. That led to January’s Teen Summit event at the downtown Des Moines Social Club.

Now the writing workshops will be scaled up to include each of the high schools and a new one in street art will be added. The Urban Leadership curriculum will offer internships to students in nonprofits and at district elementary schools where they will lay the groundwork for a half-pints poetry program. You can almost hear and feel it all happening already. If peewee basketball grows better high school jump-shooters imagine the citizen-poets this feeder pattern stands to produce!

“All of that is just in year one,” Rollins said. What then? “Stay tuned. We have many exciting ideas in the works to incorporate urban arts within the school day.”

For a glimpse of things to come, get to the slam on Thursday. There’s nothing more riveting than poetry in motion. And this stuff is moving fast. Look here for more:

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