Andrea's Blog: Reasons Why Phone Calls Can Be Fun

Hello everyone! My name is Andrea Davis, and Podium is my senior internship through the VCU School of Social Work. I am currently placed at Armstrong High School, and have recently been making phone calls to our youth’s guardians. This is one of my favorite parts of the internship, and here’s why:

  1. Acquiring a real sense of what the guardians feel like is happening in their youth’s “at school” lives, and how they are doing in their “home lives”. I often hear stories from guardians that they are aware of how much their youth love to write, and they believe that Podium has increased their voices and expressions in writing.
  2. Numerous guardians often state how they see a direct correlation between their youth attending Podium and their academic success.

One of the youth’s guardians recently stated, “I appreciate you calling and letting me know, my son doesn’t like to tell me much about school, so I appreciate this.”

Statements like this truly show me that Podium is not only in place as a writing tool, but also a caring and safe place for our youth and guardians to interact in.

These are only a few reasons why I personally love calling my youths’ guardians.

Inside Look at Podium After School

Today at Thomas Jefferson High School, we initiated discussion about poetry and how many different forms it can take. To show the youth how--even when a poem seems like it might be really simple or straightforward--the best authors put significant time, energy, and introspection into their work. I challenged our teens to write three poems using different structure-heavy methods. The goal of the first prompt was to construct a cohesive poem through blending commentary on different relationships we maintain. To begin, we wrote down and numbered fifteen different relationships we have with other people, places, or things. After they had finished we put the numbers 1-15 in a random number generator. The youth were then given gradually decreasing amounts of time to write the lines of their poems. When the timer went off, the students were allowed to finish the line they were writing, but had to start the next set of lines immediately following the previous set. The second prompt involved the finished first prompt: We passed the finished pieces around the room four times to pull lines from one another’s pieces and reconstruct them into a patchwork cento. The first time we passed, we borrowed four lines from one person’s poem; the second time, we borrowed three lines from another individual’s poem, etc.

        The third prompt, my personal favorite, a “blind” exquisite corpse of sorts. Exquisite corpse writing is a collaborative piece that is generally composed by taking turns adding lines. The twist in our method is that each writer was only allowed to see the line before their addition, thereby creating a poem very similar to a poetry version of the game, telephone. The poem turned out really, really interestingly, because it moved from being a silly, lighthearted group of lines into a slew of intensely focused words of wisdom about life and finding one’s place in the world. The exercise really showcased our youngster’s abilities to consider very mature topics while maintaining their own voices (including the silliness that gives them their unique senses of humor). Next week, we’ll probably be diving into more traditional poetic forms, but I hope we get a chance to do something like our blind exquisite corpse again. Not only did doing so create a beautiful piece of writing, but it also offered all of us, students and mentors alike, the chance to get to know each other beyond what everyday talk can offer.

Here’s the finished text from our blind exquisite corpse (trademark symbol facetiously added by Keana on her turn to write)

Beautiful breeze of a beach, tasty chirps of seagulls

Beautiful batch of bubble gum, tasty chips of Doritos ®

Your delicious Life is on a ride

To a destination within reach, but out of touch,

And there is no “you” in these bone-broke soles.

But you can be found in the eyes of man.

What’s the danger of only being seen by man?

Only heaven is after hell on land.

So go on, go home--

But don’t stray too far,

Because at the edges of life, we are alone.

But an edge does not signify the end,

And so we continue moving forward, onwards--grasping, reaching for our destinations,

Hoping that what we are reaching for is what we needed in the first place.

Dean's Blog: Personal Branding

This week in high school programs, our youth are working on the development of their own personal brands. We begin the workshop by running a game of Slogan Jeopardy in which we break the youth into two groups and have them compete to see who can most quickly identify famous slogans. So far it’s been a hoot, primarily because all the kids have gotten so into competing with one another. The slogans range from those that are ubiquitous in American culture (think of a particular golden double arc) to those that have fallen somewhat to the wayside like M&M’s “The candy that melts in your mouth, not your hands;” when we get to one they recognize, it’s almost mind-blowing how loudly they’ll shout out the name of a camera company or fast-food chain. This volume is part of the reason I designed this workshop: to show how loudly the ambient music of advertising is playing in our heads at all time. When they are in the room together and hear how quickly everyone shouts out “Like a good neighbor, Statefarm is there!” it really can be moment of realization.

After we’ve finished the game and discussed some of the finer points of what one’s brand should really attempt to convey to audiences, youth have attempted to consider themselves within the context of those ideas. At first, it seems like our youth are often somewhat uninterested because they haven’t fully considered how important it is even for individuals to have a brand. Upon talking to mentors and finding inspiration from some of their favorite artists or creative individuals, however, they have quickly understood how important marketing one’s self is regardless of what that person wants to do. From musicians to artists, from nurses to running for president, I’m so glad to see that this workshop has helped our youth consider the importance of maintaining one’s brand and how the world around us, ultimately, serves as a huge stage for one to constantly be acting and creating.

Dean's Blog: Valentine's Day & High School

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Is there any day more polarizing for high-school-age writers? Every year around this time we see our youth fall to one side of the love/hate fence with the holiday. Many of our kids love this time of year: after all, it’s a time for us to specifically tell the people we care about how much we care. Others, however, take a different perspective and aim to drag the holiday through the mud. “Sometimes,” to quote one Podium writer named Aaron in his talking about today, “we even try to make new mud with tears and just a little bit of blood.” How vivid.

It’s gotten to be a trend to host a workshop on these complex feelings around this time. Some years we’ve had youth write a love poem without cliches like hearts and colors; others we’ve had them write stories about the types of love we don’t think about every day, such as that between families or pets. This year, we’re talking about first and last loves in our programs. Yesterday was our first day running the program at Thomas Jefferson High School, and, boy, did we get some diverse pieces. The overall goal of the workshop is to balance your unique voice and your relationship to the person, place, or thing you love, and the conventions of writing in formatting and structure. In order to do so, youth were given free-reign to organize their pieces in whatever way possible, including totally abandoning those conventions, in order to convey their special messages to either their first or last loves.

If I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I am so consistently impressed by the creativity of Podium youth. From writing in a circle to represent love’s eternal power to writing in the shape of elementary school notes on scrap paper, to a creating game that offers the player different questions based on their responses about love, our kids excelled in representing their unique relationships. Ultimately they did recognize that certain conventions are necessary for conveying ideas; sometimes, however, in order to speak most clearly to one’s audience, you have to think outside the box. As a writer, a conductor of thoughts, you have the power to utilize visuals, utilize sounds and movements, utilize all five sense (and sometimes even a few extra) in order to convey meaning exactly how your audience needs to understand it. Be the hero of words they deserve.

Dean's Blog: Boundless Vision

One of both the most liberating and constricting components of designing curriculum is the process of trying to decide what is actually worth writing about and discussing with our youth. On one hand, the beauty of words is that they are used to describe literally everything. Every feeling, every shape, every color, every taste, all ultimately must pass through a filter of language before we can adequately describe, or even fully comprehend, our experiences with them. This, in turn, means that we at Podium could, in theory, discuss virtually anything with our youth, as long as the endgame of the discussion surrounds the ways choose to express our perceptions to various audiences. Imagine you recently visited a hospital; depending on to whom you are speaking about that experience, there will be different focal points of your anecdote. You will use different descriptions with various connotations that are dependent on the relationships you maintain with your audience. Because there are essentially no limitations on the range of human imagination, there is almost nothing (obviously within appropriate reason) toward which we couldn’t direct the attention of our youth and have them contemplate.

The downside of this liberty, however, is not only the intimidation of approaching a boundless vision of subject matter but also how to make some of these topics seem valuable to youth. We all remember being in high school. Some of us may even vividly remember middle school. It is an extraordinarily stressful time in which we learning to develop our own philosophies, relationships, and holds over responsibilities. And while there is undeniably an invaluable skill in being able to consider the many, many perspectives from which we may choose to comment on an experience, the diversity of interest shared by Podium youth is so broad it can sometimes be challenging to approach discussion of these concepts in a way that is within grasp and of interest to such a diverse audience.

I don’t especially have any tips or tricks on how to cope with these challenges, rather I hope to offer that, for those in any related field who may encounter this blog, there is solace to be found in that developing youth programs is a daunting task, particularly when greater organizations depend on the success of those programs.

Dean's Blog: Open Mic Reflections

Exciting news: this week we’ll be hosting open mics in all our high school program sites!

Even after working with Podium for four years, there is almost nothing I enjoy more about this job than the moment you actually get to watch youth stand to perform their work. Open Mics provide such a unique outlet for youth to engage with and learn from one another. Sometimes we will have the privilege of watching an 18-year-old who has had significant time, both in and out of Podium programs, to hone their craft; they’ve worked out the precision of every movement, the inflection of every word, the exact spot at which they are aiming their death blow. Other moments symbolize the first time an individual has come out of their shell to share their thoughts and voices to a public audience. Regardless of the experience of level, however, each instance of our young adults choosing to share their work with their peers as a huge step in creative development.

Here’s the thing about performing: it can be really, really scary. Don’t quote me on this, but I think I read one time that more people rank standing up and making a presentation in front of a crowd as a greater fear than their fear of dying. Think about that. The average person would literally rather die than talk about themselves in front of others. If anything, this idea just helps to illustrate how important it is that each of these teens not only presents their writing (which I would argue can be the most vulnerable form of art or expression), but also that they do so voluntarily. After all, in standing up to share their thoughts with an audience, one is essentially offering up an open invitation for judgment that is inherent to saying, “Hey, listen to what I have to say!”

But our youth never judge. At least not in a malicious way. Rather, every time I am lucky enough to hear one of my pupils share their writing with their peers, they are greeted overwhelmingly by cheers and supportive comments. And after working with Podium for four years, watching youth graduate and move on to their bright futures, the same proud feeling still resides in me regarding being able to work with such an honest, kind-hearted group of young adults and colleagues alike.

Transitioning to High School - with help!

The move from middle school to high school is tough. To help ease the transition, Podium staff mentored eight students at Albert Hill Middle School's "High School Information and Writing Clinic"!

The Podium crew assisted Albert Hill eighth graders in preparing for their transition from middle school to specialty high schools, such as Maggie Walker, Richmond Community, Open High, Franklin Military Academy, and Appomattox Regional Governor's School for the Arts And Technology.

During the writing clinic, the crew guided students through mock interviews, enabling them to showcase their unique personalities while receiving critical feedback. While the group worked on personal statements, Podium staff worked individually with each student in building confidence, understanding the importance of eye contact and body language, and choosing apparel for a professional interview.

Overall, Podium agrees that students at Albert Hill Middle School are well prepared and excited for their journey to high school! We wish them all the best!