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Empowering Students: Miami Teacher’s Written and Spoken Word Initiatives

Words matter.

Sure, it’s a cliché. And in the never-ending, controversy-fueled vortex of social media, words might seem more fleeting than ever.

But for the members of Precious Symonette’s creative writing class at Miami Norland High School in Florida, words have the power to save lives.

“Without her, some of us wouldn’t even be here, actually,” says Andrew Ruby, one of Symonette’s students, in a recent NEA video profile on “Superhero Educators.” “We wouldn’t even be living if they hadn’t learned how to deal with it the way Ms. Symonette taught us to.”

Many of Symonette’s students hail from disadvantaged backgrounds, where violence and poverty are a regular part of life. Symonette uses journaling and spoken word to help her students cope with the trauma they face.

Inspired by the book “The Freedom Writers Diary,” Symonette aims to give a strong voice to students, many of whom say they often feel voiceless.

As she tells NEA:

“My students have fear of being murdered; fear of abandonment; fear of being molested again. Those are the fears that they have. So, the minute you stop writing is when somebody else could step in and write your story for you. Are you going to allow them to do that?”

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Both students and fellow teachers say Symonette’s approach instills a sense of comfort and confidence in her students. One student even goes so far as to call Symonette “a mother” for her ability to nurture and empower.

At a time when schools across the country are desperately searching for better ways to engage students—often through the use of technology—Symonette and her students demonstrate that student voice can be effectively cultivated simply by giving students a forum to properly express themselves.

As fellow teacher, Renee O’Connor, tells NEA, Symonette takes a different approach to teaching, one that is less reserved and more compassionate:

“As teachers, we’re told to stand back. Don’t touch your kids; don’t hug your kids; don’t give too much because you get attached. And, she has taught me that that is absolutely incorrect.”

For more on Ms. Symonette and her approach to student voice and empowerment, check out the full video from NEA below:

What steps is your school or district taking to give students a louder voice? How are you working to improve student engagement in the classroom? Tell us in the comments.