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Poetry is Alive at Lawrence High School

Lawrence High School students took to the stage recently to perform classic works of poetry and share some of their own poetic creations.

On his website, Lamont Dixon’s describes himself as a poet performer and teaching artist.

From October through January – thanks to funding from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Lawrence Township Education Foundation and others – Dixon served as “” at Lawrence High School’s Academy of Arts and Humanities.

Dixon teaches poetry through “multiple layers – theater with drama, plus some elements of music. I bring music into the classroom. Poetry is meant to be spoken. I find the oral aspect of poetry is not being taught. I find that sad. Regardless of the age [of the students] I teach [poetry] from page to the stage.”

The theme of the Harlem Renaissance was used as a backdrop to teach Lawrence High School students to read, interpret, and create poetry. Some residencies are shorter in duration, and Dixon said he was pleased with being able to spend so much time at LHS because “I got to do more in terms of sharing” with the students. “The school staff has been wonderful.”

On Jan. 13, to culminate Dixon’s residency, students took the stage in the LHS auditorium to perform original poetry about topics of interest to them, such as football and ice cream.

During the event – dubbed “” – students also performed works by famous poets, such as Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Not only was Angelou’s piece spoken, it was performed by advanced American Sign Language (ASL) students – a first for Dixon.

Dixon has been with the New Jersey State Council of the Arts’ Young Audiences program for seven years and has been doing similar programs for 20 years. This was the first time he has worked with ASL students. “Visually, as a performer, when I saw them for the first time I was blown away. I was thrilled to have them join us for two reasons. One, it was a challenge to me, and two, I saw the possibilities,” he said.

Many of the students’ pieces were put to music by a jazz trio. The trio was made up of musicians from Young Audiences. A couple of pieces were accompanied by an interpretive dancer, a seventh-grader grader from Pemberton.

Andee Hochman, also with the Young Audiences program, helped students fine tune their poetry. She gave them an “early look at the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance.”She also worked with their “poetic techniques.”

LHS art teachers Sean Carney and Khalilah Sabree reinforced in their classrooms the lessons learned about the Harlem Renaissance. A slide presentation of sculptures “done in the style” of the Harlem Renaissance artists was shown following the poetry.

As part of the Jan. 13 event, several students performed excerpts from the Tony Award-winning play “Fences,” which chronicles the struggles of an African-American family in the 1950s. Each performance was riveting.

Later that same day, Lawrence High School held its annual Poetry Out Loud contest, part of the national Poetry Out Loud competition sponsored by The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

Thirteen LHS students took part in the contest, with each performing two poems recited from memory. One student performed his poems in American Sign Language.

Senior Caitlin Quis won the competition and will compete at the regional level in February. She won last year’s LHS Poetry Out Loud competition and advanced to states, placing within the top eight students in New Jersey.

This year’s LHS first runner-up was Laura Walker, a senior, and junior William Burke was second runner-up.

LHS English teacher Katy Henderson coordinated the contest, and LHS teachers Anne Hertzog, Megan Cardwell, Erica Ingram, Evelyn Kay, Kristen Breyter and Ashley Zimmerman served as judges.

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