Local arts group sponsors student program to increase writing proficiency

Dutchtown High School students participate in a writing and performance retreat provided by Forward Arts Inc.
Dutchtown High School students participate in a writing and performance retreat provided by Forward Arts Inc.
Chloe Matthews of Episcopal High recites poem in a Forward Arts Summer Program.
Chloe Matthews of Episcopal High recites poem in a Forward Arts Summer Program.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A literary arts organization is working to make students and other youth more proficient in literacy through creative writing and performance in select public schools of Baton Rouge.

Forward Arts Inc. was originally a division of the Big Buddy Program, but it has kick-started its own venture to provide public school students with free creative writing and poetry workshops in 2014. The organization services students by holding in-school programs and events such as a monthly open mic and a city-wide poetry slam festival for teens.

"It is a part of the mission of Forward Arts to provide learning opportunities for young people via the arts," said Program Director Donney Rose, "Specifically our programming focuses on helping students become more expressive and proficient writers through the genre of poetry."

Rose graduated from Southern University and is a former employee of the EBR Parish School System. He is also certified in Advancing Youth Development, and became a teaching artist in 2007.

"We also provide performance opportunities for students outside the school setting," said Rose, who is also a veteran performance poet of 14 years.

The program, called the 'WordPlay Writing Project', enrolls a total of approximately 120 students in four public schools: Dutchtown High, Port Allen High, Baton Rouge High, and Glasgow Middle School. In 2014, Forward Arts will be trying to add Southeast Middle School, McKinley High, Glen Oaks High, and Broadmoor High School to their roster.  In addition, Forward Arts includes a weekly after-school writing workshop.

The Project was spearheaded by Rose and Executive Director Chancelier Skidmore. Skidmore is a top ranking world slam poetry competitor. His work has been published in the anthology, Spoken Word Revolution Redux by Sourcebooks mediaFusion and the New Delta Review by the LSU Press.

The organization's open mic forum allows students to show off their writing skills through performance.

Ja'Marcus Goudeaux, a student at East Feliciana High School, explains in a Forward Arts YouTube campaign video how the program has given him a voice. "Before poetry, I didn't know how to express myself. I was just quiet about all of the problems in my life," he continued, "there was just something about advocating my feelings to others. I felt like I could use that ability to be somebody."

"Our programming is multi-tiered.  At our monthly teen open mic, 'Freshhhh Heat', we have an audience of 200 [or more] youth, with an average of 30 youths performing per event," said Rose.

At the beginning of December, Forward Arts Inc. launched Spring Forward, an online fundraising campaign to sponsor WordPlay. Officials from the organization disclosed that the funds are needed because the selected schools cannot "afford the cost of residencies due to budget constraints."

The campaign is aimed at raising $15,000.  "So far we have raised $1,277.  We definitely have a ways to go," Rose explained. And it seems they are determined to make their goal so that students from across the parish can continue to express themselves through literary arts.

According to the website, the next scheduled performance of the Freshhhh Heat Teen Open Mic & Poetry Slam is set for January 16, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. Admission for the event is $5.00.

For more information about Forward, Inc, you can visit www.forwardarts.org. You can also view the YouTube video campaign in its entirety by clicking this link: http://bit.ly/1a0V8gC.

Forward Arts officials say donation inquiries can be made by clicking here http://bit.ly/1e1EOz9.

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