News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Dallas Fifth Graders Find A Voice Through Poetry

Students competing at the DISD poetry slam.

Getting on stage and sharing your inner-thoughts can be nerve-wracking for anyone — let alone fifth graders —but that's what over a hundred of them did recently at the Dallas school district's second annual Student Poetry Slam in North Oak Cliff. 

On a Thursday night, Lucia Sol Montemayor walked out on stage at Hector Garcia Middle school. The 10-year-old stood before dozens of students, parents and faculty members to recite her poem "Latina Pride in Her Eyes."

Lucia goes to Solar Preparatory School For Girls. She was one of 700 fifth graders from nearly 80 elementary schools around the Dallas school district who wrote poems for the competition.

The night's event involved 150 students who qualified, first competing in small groups in classrooms around the middle school. 

Then Lucia and seven other top poets stood before the encouraging crowd in the auditorium.

The theme of this year's poetry slam, "My Voice, My Story,” was personal — the students wrote poems to show their peers more about who they are.

Melanie Sangalli, Dallas ISD's director of reading and language arts, said there's a reason this event is aimed at fifth graders.

"This is really important because fifth grade, that's where so many students can have a tendency to sort of check out of literacy, that's when they're getting ready to go off to middle school," Sangalli said. "It's such an important year." 

The poetry slam is a partnership between Dallas ISD and Flocabulary, a company that creates educational hip-hop songs and videos for students.  

Ike Ramos with Flocabulary said events like the poetry slam are an opportunity to bridge what happens in the classroom with what happens in the community.

"If we want kids to feel welcome in our educational institutions, our schools, our school districts, we have to honor their interest, and reflect their culture when they enter the building," he said. "It gives them something to come to school and look forward to and be excited, and be validated." 

Credit Flocabulary
Osvaldo Osorio performed his poem "Mi Vida" at the poetry slam.

Inside the auditorium, some of the kids like Osvaldo Osorio wrote their poems in Spanish. Osvaldo, a student at Jerry Junkins Elementary, titled his poem "Mi Vida" or "My Life."

"Mi vida no es dificil, pero venir a estados unidos, eso si es dificil. Tuve muchos problemas, y eso me puso triste, para enfrentarlos eso cambia todo lo dificil que me viste..."

"My life is not difficult, but coming to the United States, that is difficult. I had a lot of problems, and that makes me sad. But confronting those challenges, makes all the difference."  

Other kids talked about the challenges fifth graders face in school. Bailey Sanders is a student at William B. Travis Academy.

"I don't know what’s happening. Hair, clothes, boys, TikTok, are all anyone's talking about...," she said. 

Credit Flocabulary
Bailey Sanders, a student at William B. Travis Academy, shares her poetry about the challenges of being a fifth grader.

After the students presented their poems, Dallas businessman Roland Parrish went on stage and addressed the crowd. He sponsored the poetry slam and awarded scholarships to the top three students, including a first place prize of $5,000.

"I knew when I got in business, you just can't take money out of the community, you have to put money back into the community. Let me tell you one of the best ways to do it is scholarships to provide opportunities," Parrish said.  

Finally, the most anticipated moment of the night arrived as the judges announced the winner: Lucia. She hopped back on stage to grab her prize — a big check.

Scholarships in hand, Lucia and the other winners posed for photos and then the crowd rushed out to get back home.

It was a school night, after all.

Galilee Abdullah is a producer for KERA's "All Things Considered" and evening newscasts.