Why Paterson Kids Need Poetry

It’s Not About Raising Test Scores, It’s About Showing Them How to Speak Their Truth

Paterson has a bad reputation. But those of us who are from Paterson know that there is so much more to this city than what the newspaper’s report. Paterson is a gritty place with heart. So much creativity and brilliance dwell in every corner, particularly with the city’s youth.

Caught in the middle of drug use, gunfire, and trouble at home, many Paterson kids have had to grow up before their time. They have seen their classroom sizes expand and avenues for help diminish thanks to relentless budget cuts. After-school programs are scarce and in-school outlets like music and art are being slashed like corn in a field. And yet, these kids are expected to become the leaders of tomorrow as they get pushed to the back burner every single day.

Exposure to arts and creativity is a right, not a privilege. By now, countless studies have shown that artistic endeavors can have an enormous impact on a child’s ability to retain information, make responsible decisions, and work well within diverse groups.

Poetry’s Healing Power

Poetry in particular has the special ability to communicate stories with language, sounds and emotions that many of us typically wouldn’t express. It’s a connection like no other when we hear a stranger recite a poem about a struggle we think is unique to ourselves. Poetry exposes the likeness in our humanity. It’s powerful and vulnerable all at the same time.

In a city where kids feel the need to take to the streets to prove their bravado, poetry can help save lives. To some that may sound like hyperbole, but I challenge you to listen to the words of the young poets who have entered the Paterson Student Poetry Contest over the years.

Listen to this young poet who speaks of being shot by a gang member at the age of 8.

And this brave young woman who fearlessly expresses her insecurities about herself.

And this young woman who speaks of the darkness she fell into after losing her father:

And there are so many others who have heartbreaking stories that they desperately need to tell in order to heal. Indeed, poetry can be fun and joyous, like this young poet who delivers a poem sharing the newfound experience of being an aunt:

What the Community Can Do

There’s little we can do about the budget cuts that create larger classrooms led by underpaid teachers that just don’t have enough time to help every student who is in trouble. But through arts education, we can show them perspective and self-restraint. We can broaden their imaginations that have been limited by lack of opportunities. We can show them how to be brave without being cruel and how to accept others.

“Poetry can help a child learn to take a perspective and to understand someone else’s feelings. For a young child, it all starts with someone understanding your feelings,” says clinical psychologist Dianne Jandrasits.

For the kids in Paterson to communicate positively, we must lead with empathy. It’s more difficult to care for others when no one has cared about you. As a community, we need to show these kids that they are cared for. We must teach them the importance of reading and writing, so that they can harness the proper techniques to create confidently and be themselves.

There are fewer teachers to ask for help, after-school clubs and activities are scarce, and many kids have parents who work too much or worse, are not even in their lives. With the city and state failing them, Paterson’s youth need the right tools to express themselves in positive and productive ways. Poetry can be transformational. It helps young people to channel their emotions. They can pick up a notepad and write down their thoughts instead of succumbing to negativity or get lost in words when they have nowhere else to turn.

How TAPP Can Help

The Theater and Poetry Project is a program that aims to provide students with artistic exposure through poetry workshops, storytelling sessions, and theatrical productions. With a limited budget, it is our goal to reach as many kids as possible and supplement ongoing curricula with arts education. To sign up for a workshop or find out more about how we can partner with your school, email [email protected].

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