Building a poetic bridge across Austin Boulevard

Austin Polytechnical, OPRF team up for spoken word event

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By ROBERT FELTON

Creativity knows no borders. This could be the mantra of students at Austin Polytechnical Charter School and Oak Park and River Forest High School.

The two high schools, on opposite sides of the Austin Boulevard, have been taking part in a collaborative poetry workshop. Since April, four students from Austin Polytechnical have traveled to OPRF to help members of the school's poetry club on their next poetry showcase in November.

The showcase, held annually by OPRF's Spoken Word Poetry Club, is the first collaborative effort between the two schools since Austin Polytechnical opened its doors last year. Austin Polytechnical students have been honing their poetry-writing skills by working with OPRF alumni Santana, Dan Sully and English instructor Peter Kahn, who run the Spoken Word Club.

Austin Polytechnical students have been making weekly trips to OPRF to both prepare for participation in the poetry show and get the experience necessary to start their own poetry club.

"The union was really based on the idea that these two schools should be together, not separate," said Tiera Logan, an Austin Polytechnical sophomore. "And working together on a project like this is a perfect way to bring the schools together because of our shared love of poetry."

Logan says OPRF poetry club students have helped her perfect use of meter, drop line and rhyme schemes.

The Nov. 6 poetry show, which will be OPRF's Little Theater, will feature members of both schools reciting poems of their own creation in groups of two or more per poem. Two Austin Polytechnical students will perform alongside 56 OPRF students and six students from London.

"Once the poems are finished, we will decide which groups will read which poems and then we will practice reciting them in our groups," said Nikki Green, also an Austin Polytechnical sophomore. "The challenge is using our voices and arm movements to capture the essence of our line readings. That is the part that can be tricky."

The collaboration first began when Bill Gerstein became principal of Austin Polytechnical last year. One of his intentions after taking the position was to create an atmosphere of inclusion at the school both within the Austin campus at 231 N. Pine Ave., which also houses Austin Business and Entrepreneurial School, as well to strengthen its relationship with schools in neighboring communities.

"Even though Austin Polytechnical School and Austin Business Academy are separate entities, I wanted students of both schools to feel involved and reach out to each other for group activities," said Gerstein, who oversaw the first inter-campus collaboration during last winter's talent show. "I had this same vision for my school beyond the campus. I wanted people to know that APA was a school for Austin and open to reaching out to other communities such as Oak Park."

With that intention in mind, Gerstein proceeded to contact Oak Park resident, performing artist and friend Stan West about his idea of working with OPRF. West then contacted the school and Kahn was notified of the request.

"I liked the idea a lot," said Kahn. "I invited Bill to bring some of his students to our Spoken Word Club gatherings and from there we began working with them on this event.

"We've been doing master-writing and poetry technique with the students," said Kahn. "It is an ideal experience for our students [at OPRF] because they can learn from the Austin Polytech students and they can learn from us.

"The poetry club has existed since 1999 and this is the largest-scale collaboration we have worked on with a high school in Austin," said Kahn. "Hopefully, this is the start of more collaborations between these two schools in the future. We would like to build the kind of relationship that will allow us to travel to Austin and take part in their talent shows and spoken word events in the future, while making them feel welcome to participate in more of our school activities."

With that idea in mind, Gerstein adds that he plans to work with his students next year to start their own Spoken Word Club with the assistance of Tiffany Allison, who will serve as the new assistant principal of VOISE (Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment) Charter School. This August, VOISE will be the third small school in the Austin campus.

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