On-campus collaboration brings local ESL students together

Aiken High School and WordPlay Cincy students visit UC's campus to share stories of immigration

By Ben Harrison

The University of Cincinnati long has provided creative learning opportunities to students, and in keeping with that spirit the College of Arts & Sciences opened its doors last semester to English as a Second Language high school students.

In a collaboration between the A&S Department of English, Cincinnati's Aiken High School and WordPlay Cincy, the visiting students shared poems, enjoyed a poetry reading and saw how literature can come to life in post-secondary education.

The Aiken visit was the brainchild of Yalie Kamara, a published poet and UC doctoral candidate in creative writing. As a poet-in-residence with WordPlay Cincy, an area non-profit dedicated to inspiring youth to find their voices through writing, Kamara had an idea.

Yalie Kamara at WordPlay event

Yalie Kamara attends WordPlay Cincy event on UC's campus.

She edited an anthology by WordPlay students titled “What We Need to Know About Me,” which through non-fiction and poetry highlighted the experiences of young people who have handled immigration. With her Sierra Leonian heritage, Kamara has been intrigued by questions of cultural identity and wanted to provide a fruitful experience not only for high school students but also for the university as a whole. 

“I was moved by the voices of young people who have experienced immigration particularly in Cincinnati,” Kamara said. “I was blown away by the virtuosity and the range of the voices and the experiences they had writing about themselves and their journey and I found myself really intrigued by that. I know how important writing has been for me in my life in terms of building the world around me.” 

I was blown away by the virtuosity and the range of the voices and the experiences they had writing about themselves and their journey and I found myself really intrigued by that.

Yalie Kamara

The day began with a tour of UC’s campus. The students went to the Elliston Poetry Room, where they met with Jenn Glaser, director of graduate studies of the English Department. The curator of the Elliston Poetry Room, Michael Peterson, gave the students a tour and an opportunity to meet with some of the UC English graduate students.

One of the highlights of the day was a collaborative poetry reading between Aiken's high school students and WordPlay Cincy. The reading gave students an opportunity to share their poems, talk about where they’ve come from and show what they’ve learned from their travels and experiences as students who have experienced immigration. More than a dozen students shared their pieces.

“It was an opportunity for them to share their poems,” Kamara said. “They talked about where they’ve come from, shared what they’ve learned from their travel and experiences as both young people and as students who have experienced immigration and share it with us.”

Once these students graduate high school and are deciding on where they’d like to go to college, Kamara says there isn’t a better choice than UC.

“It’s a place where a student can become a leader,” Kamara said. “There’s a deep interest in engaging with the community at large, and each student that comes to UC has a story. As a poetry professor, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness some of those stories. UC has always made an effort to be a part of the community.”

Featured image at top: Aiken High School students attend a poetry reading at Elliston Poetry Room on UC's uptown campus