Students from Donaldsonville High School (DHS) could soon be reciting poetry at the state’s largest youth poetry festival. That’s all thanks to one faculty member with a high interest in the written and spoken word.

     When Michael Hilton, MEd began work at DHS in September as a graduation coach and mentor teacher, he said he knew there was one thing missing – poetry.

     Hilton, whose education career began as an English teacher,  started the writing club, Word of Mouth, during students’ lunch hour.

     “At Donaldsonville High School, students are embarking on a journey to increase literacy and student agency,” Hilton said. “The club hopes to increase students’ reading, writing and speaking fluency while building a culture that encourages their voices, their prospectives and their leadership.”

     On Feb. 18, Hilton sought to drive that point home when he invited nationally-acclaimed poet, Donney Rose, to perform and speak to the students.

     Rose – a teaching artist and marketing director for Forward Arts, Inc. – placed emphasis on youth voices getting lost in an adult world. As he encouraged students to advocate for themselves, he also invited them to share their own work on stage.

     One student took to the mic and performed.

     After Rose finished his set, about eight male students ran to the stage to further engage with him and ask questions, ranging from Rose’s inspiration to career details.

     “I hope that the young people can recognize the value in their voice and the power of self-advocacy,” Rose said. “Spoken word is merely the tool we use to get young people to appreciate the merit of their opinions and the importance of articulating their hopes and fears to the world.”

     As Hilton stood near the stage smiling at how excited his students seemed to be with Rose’s encouraging performance, he said he knew it was only right to continue to push his writing club.

     “The kids were amazed, impressed and encouraged to begin writing even more,” Hilton said. “Needless to saw, the literacy and student empowerment movement on the campus of Donaldsonville High School has another avenue, and it is spoken word and performance poetry.”

     While Rose was unable to demonstrate a poetry slam, Hilton explained to his students that he would like them to participate in the upcoming ALL CITY Teen Poetry Festival – an annual festival produced by Forward Arts, Inc. – held in Baton Rouge, April 27 to April 30; May 6 and May 7.

     A poetry slam is a competition at which poets read or recite original work. The performances are judged by five selected members of the audience on a scale of 1 to 10 (one being the worst, ten being the best). The highest and lowest scores are dropped and the middle three are kept. The highest score one can receive is a 30 and the lowest is a zero.

     The ALL CITY Teen Poetry Festival consists of teams of students ages 13 to 19 from schools or youth groups, typically of the Greater Baton Rouge area. By the end of the festival, a winning team is selected, as well as an overall team comprised of the top six scoring poets. Those top six poets are then labeled Forward Arts All Stars and go on to compete at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival (BNV). This year BNV will be held in Washington D.C.

     Last year two Dutchtown High School students represented Ascension Parish as part of the Forward Arts All Stars in Atlanta.

     If DHS sends a team, it’ll be their first poetry slam, but it won’t be Hilton’s first. As an English teacher at McKinley High School in Baton Rouge, Hilton had sent teams to the festival, ranking as high as second place.

     Above everything, however, ALL CITY organizers seek to build community, literacy and self esteem, and that’s a point in which Hilton agrees.

     “By next year, we want to see students making positive impacts on their community through encouraging literacy and speaking up for change,” Hilton said.

     Word of Mouth writing club meets with two groups of students on Thursdays during lunch periods.