Call it a colossal community collaboration featuring the creativity of nearly 150 seventh-graders. The Zinn Writers of Liberty Memorial Central Middle School once again have partnered with the Lawrence Arts Center, resulting in a multimedia literary project called “I Hope You Know.”
Under the guidance of Alysha Griffin, arts center artist in residence, and LMCMS educators Jackie Stafford and Ashley Weaver, the teens explored spoken word poetry, the personification of art, and themes such as bravery during a 10-week unit.
Griffin hails from Georgia and recently earned her doctoral degree in theatre performance from the University of Kansas. During the early stages of the project, which began in February, Griffin met with students and brainstormed ideas to culminate in a crowdsourced poem.
She encouraged students to draw pictures of the bravest things they had ever witnessed in real life, heard about from family members, read about in a book or performed themselves. Then each student contributed a line, resulting in the emergence of common themes such as fire and water, Griffin said.
“Everyone’s words are in there in some kind of way. And I didn’t add anything. I only took some pieces and then just put it together, so all their work.”
Filmmaker Jacob Schermerhorn lent his talents to the video portion of the project.
Seventh-grader Claire Lindemeyer called it “really cool” to hear a peer voice her written words in the video. Claire explained the meaning behind the line she wrote – “or gum beneath the table.”
“We were talking about memories, I think in that part, and holding on to them and remembering something. And that’s similar to gum being stuck somewhere. It’s hard to get off.”
She said she would most remember the multiple stages of the project. “It took a lot of class periods to do that, and it feels nice to see it all put together.”
Through the Lawrence Arts Center, the Zinn Writing Project receives financial support from Richard “Dick” and Diane Zinn in memory of their daughter Rebecca, a writer who died in 2012. Last week, the Zinns attended the film premiere at LMCMS and met with some of the Zinn Writers.
Griffin said every class lent its own unique qualities and talents. “Each class had a different personality and a different kind of vibe. So it ended up being different, but I think it works.”
The Zinn Writers — and the poem’s readers — agreed. As the school year came to a close, seventh-graders Oscar Paden and Deacon Bonee reflected on their work and why they volunteered to recite lines of “I Hope You Know.”
“It was amazing,” Oscar said. “We wanted to try something new, and we loved the descriptive words in the poem. It really made us feel it – like ‘sharp, white zig zag piercing darkness.’”
Deacon said he most liked the line “when panic and hope rise into the sky,” calling it “deep and touching.”
Griffin had never worked with teens before the Zinn Writing Project. Stafford said it required courage for Griffin to step into the classroom for the last 10 weeks of the year. “It’s not easy to be a guest teacher in the middle of the year when you don’t know everybody really well. It takes time to build relationships.”
The final product, Stafford said, left her weepy. “To hear it start to finish, it’s really, really special.”
At the premiere, Griffin told students even if poetry wasn’t “their jam,” they could still pursue art.
“I hope that you find something artistic to master, to play with, to dabble in, because I think it’s really important for who we are as people, and I think it’s really important for how we connect to other people.”
“I Hope You Know” can be viewed on YouTube. The Lawrence Arts Center also produced a poster featuring a portion of the poem.
Upcoming opportunities to view the video also include an in-house experience at the arts center and showings at the Free State Film Festival, said Andy Smith, director of youth education at LAC.
“This is a really beautiful video. We want lots of people to see it.”i_hope_you_know_ZINN