Dear Friends of Forward Arts and Humanities Amped,
In September 2005, a youth poetry program was created that has sustained Baton Rouge for 14 years by creating spaces where the voices and lives of young people matter. Initially, the program was called WordPlay Teen Writing Project, and it was housed at the Big Buddy Program. In 2012, it became Forward Arts, an independent 501(c)(3). Those of you who have been involved over the years with us know that the mission of this work, to foster personal and social transformation through literary arts education and youth development, has never changed.
Photos by Christopher Diaz
While Forward Arts has undergone some significant changes over the last year in the face of funding shortages, we remain dedicated to keeping these valuable programs active for the young people we serve and the community as a whole. Therefore, we’re excited to announce that starting this fall, Humanities Amped, with whom Forward Arts has always shared a common mission and founding leadership, will be the new home for Forward Arts programs.
As part of this transition, you can look forward to:
As we kick off this year, you are invited to join us on October 10th from 4-7 pm at the Forward Arts Poetry Family Reunion, a casual get-together to connect, talk about plans for the coming year, and learn how to stay involved as we continue to work together to shape the future of youth spoken word in Baton Rouge. RSVP above.
Anyone who knows Destiny Cooper knows that she gives her whole heart to her students. Destiny is continuously improving her teaching practice, her students’ academic and social emotional capacities, and her community partnerships. This October, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is recognizing Humanities Amped co-founder Destiny Cooper’s love and dedication with an Angel Award®. Each year the foundation awards nine everyday Louisianians doing extraordinary good for the state’s children. Destiny was chosen from nearly 200 nominees submitted across Louisiana. As an Angel Award recipient, Destiny will receive a $25,000 grant for Humanities Amped.
Destiny has been teaching for 17 years, primarily as a national board certified ELA teacher and instructional specialist at McKinley High School. Destiny has long mentored student teachers and early career teachers. This year, Destiny has been promoted to being a district-wide Humanities Amped Curriculum Coordinator. Destiny’s new position allows Humanities Amped to now work across 5 schools with over 15 educators, impacting over 1,000 students. The new cohort of teachers is called the Amped Educators Network and receives monthly professional development, coaching, and additional supports. Destiny is at the forefront of facilitating teachers and their students in creating classrooms which center community, culture, and relationships to restore life and collective joy to learning.
I am so grateful that our community recognizes and values the hard work and dedication we pour into Humanities Amped. Even though I am the recipient, this honor would not be possible without our many collaborators, contributors, students and their families. Thank you, East Baton Rouge Parish School Systems, for partnering with Humanities Amped to create the innovative and humanized school system that our students and teachers deserve, and thank you to Blue Cross Blue Shield for spotlighting our program's and our students' value. I tell my students all the time that their voice, their education, and their lives matter; thank you for telling them the same by recognizing and funding this work. I can only imagine what we can achieve in partnership with EBRPSS now that we are workng with 14 teachers and five schools with an impact on about 1,000 students! - Destiny Cooper
Join us in celebrating the Amped angel we have among us, who inspires her students, coworkers, and community to live out the Humanities Amped maxim of “transforming ourselves to transform our world.”
"This class makes me feel like I belong,” states one 11th grade Humanities Amped English Learner. English Learners often feel marginalized in classes where they might not feel they are intentionally welcomed, and a language barrier might make it harder to make friends. The culturally-responsive approach of Humanities Amped centers on student well-being and community building, which makes English Learners feel like part of a classroom family.
English Learners (ELs) feeling welcomed has translated into better academic outcomes: ELs enrolled in the Humanities Amped EL Pilot Program in the 2017-2018 school year experienced a 100% graduation rate in 2018 (compared to a 67% rate for McKinley High seniors overall). The 2018-2019 school year also saw a 100% graduation rate for ELs. One graduating English Learner shared, “I feel like this is one of the few classes that makes me feel ready for college.”
Humanities Amped English Learners appreciate the CPAR (Critical Participatory Action Research) process as a way to improve their English skills. One 10th grader stated, “Our research project helped us to lose the fear of speaking in public.” In addition to gaining confidence in speaking, this year's Humanities Amped English Learners grew in writing. In particular, the 11th graders scored 10 points higher than the district average in writing on the English Language Proficiency Test (ELPT), the state test used to measure growth in the sub categories of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Remarkably, 63% of all Humanities Amped English Learners increased
one level in one or more sub category!
Having capable, highly-trained English Learner staff makes a huge difference for students who need additional support. One ninth grader shared, “When my grades started to lower, teachers noticed. They asked me what was happening. I did not want to talk to anyone because I felt they would judge me. But they talked to me and listened. I realized teachers do not just teach, they also listen when we have problems.” With enough support, English Learners are able to excel in their other classes. At the end of 2018, one out of three ELs at McKinley High were on the McKinley Honor Roll for all of their classes for the fall semester, a significant increase from the previous year's one out of twenty.
At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year one student wrote, “My goal for this year of school is [to] have great grades and make my mom proud of me.” The Humanities Amped English Learner Cohort certainly has many accomplishments to be proud of.
Humanities Amped students learn the value of reflection not only through practicing it themselves but by seeing their instructors and leaders model the process. As we reflect on the 5th year of Humanities Amped and look over the reflections our students wrote after this year’s conference, we want to share some key lessons that we saw emerge so that you can be part of this learning community with us.
The "roots” metaphor invoked in the conference title this year pays homage to the late Grace Lee Boggs, a Detroit-based philosopher and community organizer who believed that in living systems, change requires critical connections, a myriad of small-scale actions, and the planting of many seeds. Boggs argued that our current system of education is failing youth in urban centers, where dropout rates are typically 30% and higher. In these circumstances, Boggs believed that education needs to be recreated to “provide children with ongoing opportunities to exercise their resourcefulness to solve real problems for their communities” (2012, p. 137). We see Humanities Amped as a learning community for people who are exploring exactly that kind of democratically-engaged learning.
Here’s what we have learned about “Resilient Roots”:
Rodolfo, an English learner explains, "I will never forget that it was my first presentation in English. When I went to present at the front, I had a great motivation to meet that challenge. Knowing that I have that support from teachers makes me not want to give up. I have a great appreciation for the way they teach us with great dedication and infinite patience."
Natalie writes, “Moments that stood out to me during the conference was how everyone was very serious about their topic. Also how they were able to connect with each other. It was a very emotional conference. It made me learn things about my classmates I didn’t know.”
Brianna says of the process of working collaboratively with a group, “Just witnessing and going through so many problems and different emotions [with my group], at first not really being that close, and now being good friends. I believe this project brought us closer together.”
Lauryn explains why it matters for youth to be positioned as active participants: “Young people need to be the ones [to work on these problems] because people understand and want to change problems that affect them the most. Students know what problems affect them every day. When you give them the tools, they can build.”
Jaden states, “[When our group’s action proposal was mostly turned down] all I felt was a wave of anger and failure. I felt that all the time we spent carefully planning out that entire week was wasted and that it was all for nothing. Then a group member and a close friend of mine told us that we shouldn’t be taken down by this. That we should take advantage of what they gave us and use that one day as much as we could. After she said that, all I could feel was determination to make this limited time work, even if we had to re-work our entire action project. And that’s what we did.”
Kadajaisha adds, “I feel like seeing young people trying to change things about the world inspires adults, because most adults believe that young people don’t care about their community, so seeing a young person make a change is a mindset change for adults.”
Madison says, “Knowing that we thought we wouldn’t finish in time then actually finishing stood out to me. I learned to never doubt yourself. Be yourself, anything you put your mind to you can do it; don’t let anyone tell you different” Carlyle adds, “The legacy I want to leave for future students at McKinley is that anything is possible.”
Jai explains, “The legacy I want to leave for future students at McKinley is to not be afraid to be a leader. You have to step out on faith and believe that you can do it and will do it, because if you don’t have faith that you will accomplish it, no one else will.”
Finally, Alejandra, a 9th grade English Learners explains, "After the conference, I felt proud and happy with myself because just trying to speak English with everyone at the conference was a challenge that I met. Now I know I can do anything and talk to other people in English. I feel like I have more confidence to do so, and that's why I am so proud and happy."
Humanities Amped Restorative Justice Elective led by teachers Destiny Cooper and Sam Biddick
We have always thought about Humanities Amped as a concrete model of possibility for what education can be, a space for teachers, students, and community members to learn together how we can build a world that we truly desire. We are grateful to East Baton Rouge Parish School System for investing in this unapologetically public education with us. We also want to shout out our many incredible partners at Louisiana State University who understand how important it is to not only theorize about it, but to be about it. We’re grateful for the help of the McKinley Alumni Center, Brothers Empowered 2 Teach, Andover Bread Loaf, the Miremont family, the Leavell Haymon family, all of our donors large and small, and the myriad other organizations and individuals who have gone far beyond the call to raise our children with the highest hopes possible.
We close this letter with the vision of Quan’Tyrian, an 11th grade Humanities Amped student, who when asked how we could strengthen our process, responded:
"We can strengthen the process by getting it out there more. I feel like we should put it out there for everybody to see and come with us and make a difference for our generation. If we get this program at every school in Baton Rouge, just to start off, then we could go state to state and bring awareness to EVERYBODY!"
Indeed, we believe that Quan and his many peers are going to be the ones to grow it forward. Thank you for nurturing this kind of possibility as we look toward the future of this program.
Dear Friends of Humanities Amped,
We are excited to share with you the enormous success of our 2019 Conference, “Resilient Roots”! In particular, this year’s conference serves as a concrete example of not only what our students are able to achieve, but how much the Humanities Amped program has grown in just five years: the 2015 conference featured four research and action project presentations by 25 students, and these numbers have increased steadily. This year’s conference consisted of nearly 90 student-created presentations, workshops, and dialogues, and was attended by LSU students and faculty, East Baton Rouge Parish School District faculty, staff, and students, community members, and over 300 McKinley High School students both within and outside of the Humanities Amped program.
Artist and educator Donney Rose delivered the event’s keynote address in which he remarked that “the young people of Humanities Amped [...] through research and social action, dare to challenge the status quo of educational structures to create a more substantive learning experience for themselves and for their peers.” This address was followed by the presentation of several awards to Humanities Amped supporters. Megan Sheehan-Dean received the Bobby Thompson Humble Hero of Social Justice Award for her selfless volunteer support of the program, and Dr. Solimar Otero, director of the LSU Program in Comparative Literature, received the first annual Susan Weinstein Greenhouse Award for cultivating growth and facilitating development to support our student community. Finally, the first annual Kaiya Smith True Blue Senior Action Research Award was given to graduating student Mya Donahue for her excellence in critical research, civic action, and community building.
The conference itself consisted of three themed sessions: Improving Education, Seeking Restorative Justice, and Supportive Healing, each with up to eleven concurrent panels of three team or individual presentations moderated by LSU graduate students and community members. In each presentation, Humanities Amped students (sophomores, juniors, seniors, and English Language Learners) presented personal narrative, academic research and a review of relevant literature, field work, data analysis, and plans for or the results of the implementation of an action project aimed at addressing the problem they had identified and explored. Following each presentation, students fielded audience questions about their work.
Junior team "Orgullo" (Hector Alvarez, D'Quarius Robertson, Jayla Morgan, Chavaria Price) and mentor SK Groll following student presentation "Making the LGBTQ+ Community Feel Safe"
Junior team "Positive Panthers" (Rochelle Cornelius, Kevin Brown, Kenderick Marshall, Jerranie Gray, and Kennedi Davis) present "Building Better Relationships Between Teachers and Students at McKinley."
In reflecting on her conference experience, Humanities Amped studentMakaylen explained, “Before I got in [Humanities] Amped I would have never seen myself doing something like this. I can honestly say it has built my confidence to another level. I feel like I can take on any challenge that’s given my way.” All in all, this opportunity for Humanities Amped students to share their work with each other and the community in a professional and public space reflects the program’s goal of being a concrete model of possibility for what students are capable of and what education can be: a space for teachers, students, and community members to learn together how we can build a world that we truly desire. We are so grateful to our numerous volunteers, to East Baton Rouge Parish School System for investing in this unapologetically public education with us, our LSU support, our donors, our partners, and those who attended the conference. Thank you for growing this program with us!
On Wednesday, November 14, all Humanities Amped Students participated
in several exciting community building events. The morning began with Muffins with Mentors, a student designed opportunity for Humanities Amped students to meet in mixed grade-level groups to build relationships across the program. Muffins with Mentors was also the first time in program history that all Humanities Amped students gathered together in the same space!
Throughout the day the students participated in three separate conferences. The sophomores and seniors, partnered according to their groups from the morning, attended presentations at the LSU Student Union led by a variety of professionals. In the afternoon several seniors led sessions in which they collected data for their own research.
The English Language Learner cohort attended a similar conference at the LSU Honors College where they heard presentations from lawyers, activists, and other professionals. The students also toured the LSU campus and ended the afternoon with a soccer game.
The junior conference, entitled “Back to the Future: Bringing McKinley’s Past and Present Together to Build a Better Future” was held at the McKinley Alumni Center where Humanities Amped juniors, along with alumni from McKinley graduating classes dating back to 1962, engaged in powerful, inter-generational conversation about strengthening the McKinley community. Following the discussion of the morning, students and alumni attended workshops focusing on McKinley traditions, activism in South Baton Rouge, and the history of McKinley along with a tour of the McKinley Alumni Center museum.
On the evening of November 14, Humanities Amped students, families, and supporters gathered in the McKinley cafeteria for a Community Night. Attendants shared a potluck dinner, listened to various student and teacher speakers, and participated in a poetry writing workshop.
Your donations and support allow us to provide these powerful opportunities for our students to learn and grow together, and we want to thank you for your involvement in the work of Humanities Amped. We will be closing our GoFundMe campaign at the end of the year, but still need almost $400 to meet our goal for 2018. As the year comes to a close, we hope you will please consider contributing to Humanities Amped or sharing our campaign.
Are you a McKinley Alumni or community member interested in participating in Back to the Future: Bringing McKinley's Past and Present Together to Build a Better Future? Sign up here by Nov. 7 by clicking on the link: https://goo.gl/forms/PB17PN16I0tz1qbJ2
Help us fundraise $12,000 by October 1st and $20K by December 1st!
Your generous contributions will be used to pay for:
- an English Language Learners (ELL) Coordinator that will serve immigrant students at McKinley High School
- a collaboration with Brothers Empowered to Teach (BE2T), an organization that empowers black male students to become teachers and serve their community
- materials for our students, including field trips, books, and technology
Please click on https://www.gofundme.com/humanities-amped to donate and spread the word. Your support is so important to Baton Rouge high school students.
This year Humanities Amped is participating in a nation-wide award competition that recognizes teachers and the great work they do. We have nominated Dr. Anna West and Ms. Destiny Cooper to get $2,500 each for much-needed classroom supplies--and you can help by voting for them every day during the month of June!
To do so, please go to https://www.farmers.com/thank-americas-teachers/vote-for-a-teacher/vote-for-a-proposal-form/ and search for "Baton Rouge, Louisiana" to see Dr. West's and Ms. Cooper's proposals. To vote, do the following:
- click on Dr. West's and Ms. Cooper's proposals.
- enter your email address and click submit.
- you will receive a confirmation email with a link: click on the link to confirm your vote.
Remember, you can vote for them every day!
Your support is invaluable.
The Humanities Amped Team.