The Poetic Days of Late Summer: Inside VOX’s Media Café

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Thoughts of summertime and teens usually bring to mind images of baseball, swimming holes and lazy, nothing-filled afternoons. But nestled in the corner of a Midtown Atlanta high rise a group of teens have been passing the dog days of the season in a slightly different way.

For nearly two decades VOX Teen Communications has been honing the journalism and leadership skills of a diverse cross section of Atlanta teens. Each year more than a hundred pass through the newsroom doors or slide into the seat at one of their workshops.

During the school year, the non-profit publishes the city’s only teen-powered newspaper. Distributed for free through many metro area schools, each issue reaches about 90,000 peers. But with the lax summer months comes the freedom to move a bit beyond the news print.

“VOX Media Café is actually in it’s inaugeral year. This is the first year that we’ve done this summer program,” said Rachel Alterman Wallack, executive director of VOX. “VOX has always provided summer programing for teens, but in the past we had a four-week journalism and leadership program, which was a great program but it only served 14 kids.”

Today, VOX’s Media Café program offers four, weeklong workshops that can handle about 40 students throughout the summer.

“And we were able to create content to teach kids based on what the teens in our program said they wanted to learn, which is how we came up with the VOX Media Café offerings,” Alterman Wallack said. “The first week was visual communication, and then interactive media. The third week was reporting, and then this week we’re finishing up creative non-fiction.”

Like most everything else at VOX, the teens dictate their level of involvement with the program. Some attend for the course of the summer, and others for a single week.

For 17-year-old Paige Curtis this is her first, and last, week.

“Media Café, if you get the chance to do it definitely sign up because you’ll learn so much about yourself and the way you write.” Curtis, a student at North Atlanta High School, said. “I love the hands on exposure you get to people in the field of writing.”

Throughout the summer, an award winning cast of lecturers have taught kids about everything from visual storytelling to the finer points of poetic imagery. Now on the final day, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey and Women of the World Slam Poetry Champion Theresa Davis are leading breakouts with about a dozen teens.

The pay off? A good, old-fashioned poetry slam.

“Slam poetry is competitive poetry where a poet presents original work, and the work is then scored by five random judges,” said Davis, currently the Women of the World Slam Poetry Champion. “It’s been very challenging, but it’s also very therapeutic for me and I love the idea of connecting with other people.”

“I work with kids so much I want them to understand the inherent power of words and that that’s a power they all have,” she added.

But honestly there wasn’t much slamming going on inside the walls of VOX. As the day faded the group of young poets clapped, or rather snapped their fingers -– the poet’s applause -– as they took turns reading their original works.

The vox media cafe program will be back next summer. Teens who wish to be involved with VOX during the school year can join the program in October.

This story was produced in partnership with the Southern Education Desk.

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