Friday, April 12, 2013

Guest Post: Words Unlocked

I began following What’s Good? in the Library several years ago, when I was helping to run a book club with youth charged and incarcerated as adults at DC Jail and searching desperately for new titles for our monthly “book ballot.” I found What’s Good? to be a resource in a way that standard curricula and book lists were not- the librarians posting reviews understood the unique circumstances of working in a detention setting, and embraced the challenge!

April is National Poetry Month, but it can be difficult to tie poetry into programming in a way that is real and relevant. When I heard about the Words Unlocked initiative from the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings, I felt the same feeling of thankful recognition as when I discovered “What’s Good?” Designed specifically for educators working with youth in detention, the Words Unlocked wiki is loaded with free resources- downloadable lesson plans, worksheets, poem links and more. It also offers a great opportunity to engage nationwide- for educators through the online teacher community, and for youth by entering a national Poetry Contest, to be judged by esteemed authors Jimmy Santiago Baca and R. Dwayne Betts.

Last night, in a writing workshop at a youth detention center, one longtime participant remarked that poetry had changed his life. “Sometimes you have to write things into existence,” he told me.  “If I hadn’t written those poems, I wouldn’t have decided to make new choices.” To get involved, visit Words Unlocked today!

Check out:  --Juliana Ratner

Juliana Martin Ratner has been writing with incarcerated youth since 2008. She currently facilitates a poetry workshop at New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Washington, DC through a collaboration between Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop and The Beat Within. She also assists the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings with outreach and special projects.

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