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Smith Middle Artists Present at Burwell School

Two Smith Middle School (SMS) AVID students and two teachers shared their original poetry, prose and songs during a powerful hour at the Burwell School Historic Site in Hillsborough on Sunday afternoon, January 19. As the second installment in a series called “Emerging Diverse Voices,” funded by a grant from the Orange County Arts Commission, the celebration drew a standing room only audience. Gulinky at Burwell

The Emerging Diverse Voices series is curated and led by Kim Lane, a gifted education specialist at SMS, as well as a prolific poet and songwriter herself. Lane was awarded a grant from the Orange County Arts Commission with the primary goal of highlighting and celebrating a range of new, or less often heard voices.

The group featured at the Burwell School were Eric Zeigler, SMS AVID coordinator, Areale Smith, sixth grade English Language Arts teacher and two eighth grade AVID students, Arul Nagarajan  and Gulinky Lu. Zeigler has been writing and performing poetry and spoken word for years, but had never done so alongside his students. This is Smith’s first year at SMS. She said she views performing as an act of generosity and vulnerability, perhaps doubly so in front of students and colleagues.

Lane said, “The teacher performers were recruited by me, after I had been witness to their talents at some school-based events. The AVID students auditioned to earn their spots in the event, after being invited to share their spoken word, song, or TED talk presentations. Once the students were selected, I worked with them in a coaching role so that they could feel confident and prepared for their debuts as professional artists.”

Zeigler performed a three-part spoken word piece, based on his youth in pre-gentrified Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, or as he said, “Bed-Stuy, Do or Die.” “In my creative process, I take what I feel, I take what I’m given,” he said. Introducing the piece titled “Third Grade: A Mind that Needed a Pen,” Zeigler said, “For me, it’s how I sought social acceptance.” The piece ends with lines that include, “Can you imagine what would happen if I didn’t have my pen? Without my pen, I’m lost.”

Arul at Burwell Nagarajan recited two poems, one that begins, “When will we see where we’re going? We’re just driving past the buildings and the houses that are vacant, but still lit,” and ends, “... Where are we?” His second poem was about self-realization and the new year. “In this new year, try to be who you were meant to be, stand on the path you were meant to stand on.”

Lu’s piece on global warming and climate change was styled after a TED Talk. He described the fires in Australia, the heat waves in India and Pakistan, the flooding of Venice and glacial melting in Antarctica. “We are destroying our only home, as of 2020… Go out, find ways to work for sustainability. We must adapt to our changing environment.” 

Zeigler loved watching his students on stage, embracing their ongoing roles as AVID ambassadors. “They need spaces like that,” he said. “These experiences give so much more validity to who they are and who they want to be in the world.” As one of the current CHCCS cohort members of the Elon University AIG licensure program, Zeigler said he is constantly reminded of the far-reaching value of social-emotional learning, as well as STEAM activities for all learners.

Lane’s pride in the young performers was evident throughout the event. “Gulinky and Arul were so composed and well-prepared, and seemed happy at the reception. Their families accompanied them, and were so happy for the boys and the reception that they enjoyed. I hope that they were able to take it all in and enjoy the moment; those times stick with a young person.” 

The program ended with Smith delivering two poems and singing a new song. The first lines of her poem “Tears” had many listeners nodding their heads. “Tears. Often told, don’t cry them, especially if you’re a male, and told, don’t cry so much, especially if you’re a female.” Her work often touches on her faith and the power she derives from community.

“Sunday felt like community, and ours came out to celebrate the diversity and the talents in ours. People will choose diversity when given the chance,” Lane said. “All of our artists are emerging in some way, whether because of their youth or because they’re emerging into a more dominant culture. We want them to be seen, to be heard, and to talk about their thoughts.”

Photo credit to Bob Johnson