A student performs a poem

Hungry for happiness: Students unify diverse voices through poetry

SOE students, led by professor Jeff Stanzler, connect high schoolers, teachers, and community members through the International Poetry Guild, where learners from varied backgrounds write and perform original work.

“I’m hungry for happiness. It’s time to rise up,” the students said in unison. Some of them high schoolers, some of them college students, they had been tasked with discovering their common experiences in order to write and perform multi-voice poetry.

While the U-M undergraduates in Eli Zemper’s EDUC 365 course had served as mentors to the high school students in Rachel Bomphray’s English class at South Redford Thurston High School for months, they had never met in person. Until that day, the students had been connected through the International Poetry Guild project of the Interactive Communications and Simulations (ICS) group. 

ICS projects connect students, teachers, and community members across space and time, through innovative web-mediated learning projects that tackle serious subjects in engaging, creative ways. Teachers are invited to engage their classes in the projects hosted by ICS while U-M students act as mentors through participation in one of five courses. ICS director Jeff Stanzler says, “Our goal is to support rich, reciprocal learning relationships between the K-12 students and the U-M student mentors, as well as useful professional development for our classroom teacher partners.”

Rachel Bomphray (AM ’14, TeachCert ’14), a graduate of the Master of Arts with Secondary Teacher Certification program, explains what an important resource the Guild has provided: “It has been a game changer for my class. I valued creative writing but it was hard to make it happen. Now that we have this platform, the students can put their work in this space and get feedback from mentors. It makes my students feel heard and it has inspired me to encourage a culture of creative writing in my classes.”

For the U-M student participants, who major in many different disciplines, it is a way to develop their own creative writing skills and help nurture middle and high school writers. Zemper says of her U-M students, “A lot of the students come to this course through word of mouth. The course is set up so that college students are doing their own creative writing. Many of them haven’t written in that form since middle or early high school. They are going through their own writing processes.”

Zemper adds, “Students who publish on the Guild are often from different backgrounds and it expands the horizons of mentors, too.” 

Just as students acknowledge their differences, the U-M mentors also help their mentees find common ground and understanding. The assignment to create multi-voice poetry in small groups during the on-campus visit developed empathy, as the students identified shared feelings of sadness, anticipation, joy, pain, worry, fatigue, and hope. 

In Bomphray’s experience, the process of sharing creative work with others is an opportunity to become more confident and comfortable. She says, “We talk about what that means and what that looks like. I feel like it makes my class a safe space because I give them this permission to express themselves.”

Because of the success of the International Poetry Guild project, Bomphray and her students have started an afterschool poetry club. Her students participate in open mic nights twice a year and have a unique space to develop personally and intellectually. 

Bomphray was one of only four finalists for DTE Energy's teacher of the year award. This award recognizes teachers who expose their students to the creative and performing arts. Zemper says of their collaboration, “I am so lucky and proud to be working with Rachel through the International Poetry Guild. Her dedication to organizing field trips to U-M and other venues to expose her students to the arts and give them outlets for their own performances is one of the many reasons Rachel was a finalist for this award.”