photo of african american student writing poetrySometimes, writing poetry and being given the chance to speak their truth out loud can unlock the door to self-discovery and success in students who are struggling in traditional classrooms. At least that’s what Stephanie Butler believes.

Butler is an English teacher with Kalamazoo Public Schools' Alternative Learning Program. The program, a short-term alternative for sixth, seventh and eighth graders from the area’s four middle schools, offers students the skills they need to improve their behavior and classroom success.

This year was the second time Butler coordinated what she calls the ALP Poetry and Voice Project. It was funded, in part, by a Good Neighbor Grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. And the project found another partner in Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative.

"I’ve known the founders of Fire for years," explains Butler. "They helped us launch the project last year, and it was so successful I asked them to come back."

All of the students in Butler’s two seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms participated this year. "Fire Collaborative conducted workshops in the classroom with everyone," she says. "Then we selected 15 students who seemed particularly interested in producing their work to go on a field trip to Fire, where they mixed the poetry they’d written with music." According to Butler, those students also presented their work during the second annual Poetry Slam, which was held on March 1 as part of a larger literacy night event at the ALP.

"I called this the Poetry and Voice Project because written and spoken words go together in poetry, helping each student to find their own voice," Butler notes. "This project gives them an opportunity to understand themselves in a way they haven’t experienced before."