YouthSpeak gives students a platform for expression
Event is a night of poetry and essays
Kirsten Nilsson, youth services librarian of the Summit County Library Kimball Junction Branch, remembers what it was like to be a teen.
She recalls the flurry of growing emotions and the awkwardness of the stage between being a child and becoming an adult.
Nilsson’s teenage past is one reason she enjoys YouthSpeak, an annual student showcase of poetry and essays that will be read and performed at the library on Wednesday, March 29.
The event, which is free and open to the public, is a platform where teens can express their feelings in a safe environment, but still receive feedback from professional and semi-professional public speakers.
“I think teens feel things more deeply than adults, because the feelings are new,” Nilsson said. “So, I love that this event validates their feelings.”
YouthSpeak will start at 5:30 p.m. with music performed by local singer and songwriter Bill McGinnis.
“There will be refreshments as well,” Nilsson said. “We’ll have pizza and drinks and it will be a casual teen party before they start reading and performing at 6 p.m.”
YouthSpeak started two years ago through the library’s partnership with Treasure Mountain Junior High School teachers Cheryl Henry and Michelle Stratton and Park City Toastmasters.
“It’s an elective that is intended to be one of several options for students to let their voices be heard at the end of the third quarter,” Nilsson said. “We have had great response.”
The events have showcased anywhere between 10 and 20 students.
“Most often the kids write and read or perform these heartfelt poems and essays that dig deep into their life experiences,” Nilsson said. “That may be a surprise to a lot of people because there is a misconception that 15-year-old kids aren’t deep thinkers. But they are.”
Nilsson said she has experienced many powerful readings and performances during YouthSpeak, but one really hit her hard.
“Two years ago, a girl wrote and read a poem about her parents’ divorce and the emotional abuse she suffered during her childhood,” Nilsson said. “The poem was about her mixed-up feelings, particularly about her father, as I recall.”
Nilsson cried during that presentation.
“What she did was remarkable,” Nilsson said. “That’s when I really realized that these kids have important feelings that need to be expressed.
“I have kids and I know that kids sometimes don’t take these assignments seriously, but when they do, it can be overwhelmingly powerful.”
The Park City Toastmasters will judge the presentations, and prizes will be awarded.
“They are great to work with,” Nilsson said. “They make the kids feel really comfortable and are always supportive and positive with [their feedback]. I think it’s great that kids are exposed to adults who still care about public speaking.”
Nilsson said in addition to giving students an opportunity to express themselves, the event allows them to network with their peers.
“YouthSpeak has partnered with the Brave New Voices, a nonprofit that facilitates programs that provide youth with writing and performing opportunities to connect with each other,” she said. “They present a Brave New Voices festival.”
Information about the festival can be found by visiting youthspeaks.org/bravenewvoices.
“Presenting YouthSpeak is so satisfying for us, and I think the kids who have participated are happy they did,” Nilsson said. “From my point as a librarian, I would love for kids to have more writing opportunities.”
Nilsson would love to start a writing group for teens where they can spend a couple of hours writing and reading each other’s works.
“Generally speaking, good writers are good readers and good readers are good writers,” she said.
Park City Toastmasters, Treasure Mountain Junior High teachers and the Summit County Library Kimball Junction Branch will present YouthSpeak 2017 from 5:30-8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29, at the library, 1885 W. Ute. Blvd. For information, visit http://www.thesummitcountylibrary.org.
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