Town Hall Considers Future of High School

Student reading poetry on stage

A town hall meeting to rethink the future of high school education was sponsored by Movement 515 and held at the Temple Theater.

Six years ago DMPS teachers Kristopher Rollins and Emily Lang took a summer trip to the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival in San Francisco. It was an exploratory mission. It laid groundwork. The next year a DMPS team went with them. Since then the local student-poets borne of their vision have become a force to be reckoned with and put their hometown squarely on the map of hotbeds for youth leadership and activism.

No wonder, then, that Des Moines was chosen as one of twenty cities on a national tour that stopped here on Wednesday and will be featured in a documentary debuting at the BNV festival when it returns to San Francisco this summer.

The Movement 515/RunDSM/Urban Leadership Youth Board hosted a town hall meeting for high school students in the area to rethink and reimagine high school public education. A partnership with Youth Speaks and XQ (The Super School Project), the event included a panel discussion, spoken word poetry, and audience engagement.

Students Julio Delgadillo (North), Jalesha Johnson, and Elhondra Brazzle (both East) co-moderated the event and performed original works that addressed topics like whether high school as it’s currently configured prepares students for future success and the extent to which students feel supported by their teachers.

The panel consisted of students Anh Diep (Hoover), Nico Robinson (Lincoln), school board member Dionna Langford and DMPS Superintendent Tom Ahart.

One recurring notion expressed by participants was that students would appreciate and benefit from practical instruction in life skills like tax preparation and vehicle registration. Those aren’t typically the stuff of poetry, but they are needful things.

In addition to the town hall tour that will culminate with the premiere of the documentary at the festival in July, Youth Speaks and XQ are co-sponsoring an open competition that invites input from teens nationwide on the topic of rethinking high school. Prizes will include an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles. For more information, text BraveNewSchools to 51555.

Meanwhile, locally, the focus now shifts to the 5th Annual Des Moines Teen Poetry Slam. The finals are scheduled for May 5 at the Harmon Fine Arts Center on the campus of Drake University and the stakes are a spot on the team that will represent this summer in San Francisco, where it all began.

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