Words Unlocked 2017


Words Unlocked Update #11: May 30th, 2017

Congratulations to all of the 2017 Words Unlocked Poets! This update features this year's Prize-Winning Poems.
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"They were all strong, they all dove into the ether realm of anguish and confusion and struck the temple bell of authenticity— I’m proud of them, they all have unique voices, clear and genuine, their affection gripped me and their sincerity was compelling— I applaud them all for a commendable effort!"

~ Jimmy Santiago Baca

Drumroll, please!


ALERT: Words Unlocked 2017 Contest results will post no later than Tuesday, May 30th.

We are busy working to determine the winning poems. Enjoy the holiday weekend and...
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Words Unlocked Update #10: May 19, 2017

This update features the WU17 Round 2 results, which leave us with the final 15 poems!

Final 15!

The fifteen poems that made it through our 2nd Round Review process are now in the hands of our Reviewing Artists. Want to know which poems those are? Click the link below and find out! The Final 15 are featured in bold.

Congratulations teachers and poets! We'll be back in touch next week with the winning poems.


Words Unlocked Update #9: May 12, 2017

This update features the results of our Round 1 Review, information on our review process going forward, and a poetry break courtesy of our Words Unlocked 2017 Returning Lead Reviewing Artist, Jimmy Santiago Baca. Enjoy!

Round 1 Results!

All of the poems included in the list below were moved forward by our Round 1 Volunteer Reviewers and will be included in the 2017 Words Unlocked Anthology. Congratulations to your poets!

Teachers, please click the linked file below and make any corrections related to your poets' submissions. This is important and will ensure that the 2017 Words Unlocked Anthology is accurate.

Round 2 Review is Underway

We are currently engaging in the Round 2 Review process. Our goal is to get the final 15-20 poems to our 2017 Reviewing Artists next week!

Poetry Break

Take a few minutes to listen to Jimmy Santiago Baca read his poem, Cut-Tongue Sparrow. Like Jimmy's truth, the truths that young people held in confinement from across the country bring forward are not easy listening. We choose to lift them up and listen with open hearts. Be well, breathe, and choose to listen - even to the cut-tongued sparrow.
Jimmy Santiago Baca - Cut-Tonged Sparrow


Words Unlocked Update #8: May 5, 2017

This update features an update on the WU17 Poetry Contest review process, a new teacher spotlight, and a way to praise your poets!

WU17 Poetry Contest: Review Round 1

Thank you to all of the teachers who exposed our young people in confinement to the 2017 Words Unlocked curriculum. As of midnight on last Saturday, we once again received hundreds of poems from across the county, all exploring the WU17 theme of Authenticity!

All poems are currently in the hands of our Round 1 Volunteer Reviewers. We'll be back next Friday with another update on the review process. By then, we will have moved on to round two.

Teacher Spotlight!

This week our spotlight is on Kim Strizak, an ELA teacher from the Montgomery County Juvenile Court's Center for Adolescent Services in Ohio, who wrote us about her students experience with Words Unlocked 2017. Let's hear what Kim had to say.

Kim: The students at CAS were very motivated by the video on "Let Me Breathe" and "High School Training Ground." These videos inspired us to create and perform a group number that focused on the idea of authenticity. This performance happened at our staff appreciation day; it was well-received and appreciated by all. Through this process, the students discovered an appreciation for poetry. This project has motivated staff and students to develop a Poetry Group.

Thanks, Kim, for sharing your story! Have your own WU17 story to tell? Well, click the link and Tell It!

Praise Your Poets!

It's so exciting to hear that many of you are praising your poets during classroom celebrations, schoolwide award ceremonies, poetry cafés, and staff appreciation days. Click the image of the certificate to download a Word version, add your personal touch, print, and present to your poets for so expertly and so very humanly sharing their most authentic selves. : )


This update features an extension of the submission deadline, teacher spotlights, and a poetry break.

WU17 Submissions!

The submissions continue to pour into our WU17 Submission Portal! Wow! Getting an error message? Well, sometimes the portal gets overwhelmed with multiple folks submitting at the same time. No worries. Take a break, then try again. Still having trouble? Send us a quick email and we'll figure something out.

Due to an error on our part, the WU17 Submission Portal will remain open through midnight of Saturday, April 29th. Hope this helps!

Teacher Spotlights!

This week our spotlight is on two teachers. Leslie Fleming from McLaughlin High School in Alaska and Ken Sylvester from the Echo Glen School in Washington both supported their students in performing their poetry! Nice! Let's hear what Leslie and Ken had to say.

Leslie: Yesterday I submitted 25 poems to Words Unlocked that students had written. A huge increase since submitting six poems last year!! It has been an amazing journey for all of my students, many whom have never written anything like this before. The array of poets and material we have had the opportunity to have access to via Words Unlocked has been invaluable. My classes are looking forward to our own "Slam Poetry" event on Thursday. It will be a small forum where my classes will "perform" during their own class period. "Words Unlocked" has made April a fun and creative month for my students to explore their writing.

Ken: Final touch-ups underway to submit on Thursday! AMAZING work from my students - I'm so very proud of all of them! The prompt of "Authenticity" has "opened up" some of my most difficult students to begin writing honestly about themselves, in poetic form. I'm planning a day for all my classes to share their poems with other classes, serve decaf coffee, hot chocolate and have "open mic poetry day" in my classroom!

Thanks, Leslie and Ken for sharing your stories! Have your own WU17 story to tell? Well, click the link and Tell It!

Poetry Break

We're leaving you this week with a poetry break from our focus poet, Mwende "FreeQuency" Katwiwa. What better way to wrap up Words Unlocked 2017 than with where we began? We hope you'll take a few minutes to enjoy The Joys of Motherhood. We'll be sure to keep you posted as we engage in the the reviewing process!
FreeQuency - "The Joys of Motherhood" (WoWPS 2015)


Words Unlocked Update #6: April 21, 2017

This update features a quick reminder that the WU17 Submission Portal will remain open through Friday, April 28th, and a Poetry Break.

WU17 Submission Portal is Open!

The WU17 poems are rolling in! So far, we've received poems from California, Connecticut, Florida, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin. Wow! Keep 'em coming!

If you have any trouble downloading the WU17 Submission Template or uploading to the WU17 Submission Portal, please let us know and we'll get on it.

Poetry Break

We're leaving you this week with a poetry break from poet, filmmaker, and speaker, Prince EA. (It's also one of the videos featured in the link above!) Take just over four minutes to watch his spoken word piece and imagine what thoughts, ideas, and actions it might evoke in your students.

Then, check out the WU17 resource on creating your very own Poetry Café inside your facility or school space. Already planning to hold a spoken word event? Share your experience or ideas on our WU17 "Tell It" Padlet or just send us an email!

*Remember, poetry is relevant beyond April! Who says you can't hold a spoken word event at the end of the traditional school year or over the summer?



WU17 Update #5: April 14th, 2017

This update features a new instructional resource, Jimmy Santiago Baca's Poetry Reflections, the WU17 Contest Submission Template, the WU17 Submission Portal, and another WU17 Teacher Spotlight!

Jimmy's Poetry Reflections

We are thrilled to announce that teachers participating in Words Unlocked 2017 will have limited access to Jimmy Santiago Baca's poetry reflections through May 15th, 2017. The poetry reflections have been organized by book for easy reference. Simply click any book cover or poem title on our WU17 webpage dedicated to Jimmy's Poetry Reflections.

Want to access Jimmy's reflections beyond May 15th? Click HERE to subscribe to ongoing access to the poetry reflections and more at jimmysantiagobaca.com.

"The essence of language is to interpret what's in your heart."

In the video above Jimmy shares the motivation behind his poetry reflections and the inherent connection between poetry and the lived experience of teachers and students. How will you empower your students to express what's in their hearts and reignite the embers of learning?

WU17 Submission Template

Please download the WU17 Poetry Submission Template. This is a Word document and we ask that all submissions be uploaded as Word documents, using this template. PDFs will not be accepted.

Why? If one of your poets is featured in the WU17 anthology, it makes life easier when working with a Word document.

Thanks in advance! : )

WU17 Submission Portal is open!

The WU17 Submission Portal is live and ready to receive submissions! You can simply complete your submission directly through the WU17 Contest Webpage or click HERE to open the portal in a new window. Again this year, you can submit up to 50 poems at a time! We're thinking this should cover it for most folks. ; )

Teacher Spotlight!

This week our spotlight is on Kendra Hendrix, a teacher at Owensboro Day Treatment in Kentucky. Each year, Kendra exposes her students to the Words Unlocked curriculum, which is available to everyone in alternative settings. Here's what Kendra had to say about her young writers:

"When we returned after spring break, a few students showed me poems they wrote during the break. A few others shared with me how they read poetry (even checked out Tupac's poetry book from the public library). I am so proud! My students are taking off with this unit. I've been pleasantly surprised by many students' effort toward creating these poems. Their poems about themselves that include symbolism are wonderful!"

Kendra, we are so glad to have you participating again this year. You are en educator to emulate! Checking books out from the public library? MAJOR win!


WU17 Update #4: April 7th, 2017

This update highlights the WU17 instructional materials, the WU17 "Tell It!" platform, our 2017 Reviewing Artists, and our first WU17 Teacher Spotlight.

Come and Get 'em

If you are planning to begin Words Unlocked on Monday, that's perfect! You still have plenty of time. The Words Unlocked 7-day semi-structured curriculum, à la carte lesson plans, and contest guidelines for 2017 are ready and waiting to be consumed. Keep checking back for additional resources!

Tell It!

How is Words Unlocked 2017 unfolding for you? Do the young people you work with have any favorite poems? Have you had any surprises? Click here or on the link below to share your story! You just might be featured in our next "Teacher Spotlight."

WU17 Reviewing Artists

Ready to meet the WU17 Reviewing Artists and share their encouragement with your poets? We have a wonderfully talented and diverse group of poets, led once again by our Lead Reviewing Artist, Jimmy Santiago Baca! Our reviewing artists have taken the time to provide young people participating in Words Unlocked with a personal message, so visit our Reviewing Artists page today!

Unable to stream video inside your facility? No worries! Feel free to download and save them.

Teacher Spotlight

This week our spotlight is on Deborah Christie, a Literacy Coach who serves our young people in Pinellas County Jail. A group of students she works with got inspired by our WU17 Focus Poet, FreeQuency, to come up with their own stage names. The poets will be using these names to sign their poetry submissions. How great is that? The teachers even picked their own stage names. Thanks, "DebHoorah" and "Mrs. KeptseeCola" for doing what it takes to get creative and motivate young writers. Way to go!

Check out these posters this group of students made on Day 1 of WU17. Nice!


WU17 Update #3: March 31st, 2017

This update features our official WU17 Kickoff Video starring our Focus Poet, FreeQuency, and a direct link to the WU17 Website.

Are you ready?

Words Unlocked officially kicks off on Monday, April 3rd! With your help young people held in confinement across the country will be experiencing and writing poetry. We’re so excited to have FreeQuency as our WU17 Focus Poet. Showing young people the kickoff video and engaging with her work will be a wonderful opportunity to lift up feminine thought, insight, and lived experience alongside the young people you work with.
WU17 Kickoff Video!

WU17 Website

Please be sure to visit the Words Unlocked section of our CEEAS initiatives. It has everything you'll need to run Words Unlocked 2017!
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Hello, again! This update features a TEDx Talk by our Words Unlocked 2017 Focus Poet, our previous WU Day 1 materials, and the WU17 Contest Poster!

WU17 Focus Poet: Mwende "FreeQuency" Katwiwa

Our Words Unlocked 2017 Focus Poet is busy preparing an original poem for Words Unlocked 2017 and filming the WU17 Kickoff Video. In the meantime, check out her TEDx Talk on Unlearning!
For John Mack: FreeQuency at TEDxTU

Previous Words Unlocked Day 1 Lesson Materials

While we are preparing the WU17 Day 1 Lesson to feature the work of our focus poet, take some time to check out our Day 1 instructional materials from previous years. There are some definite favorites there and you may want to put them to good use again this year!

WU17 Contest Poster!

You asked for a poster last year to help get students excited about Words Unlocked 2017. Well, we created one! The WU17 Contest Poster is featured on the WU17 Website. Just click the image, print, and display.
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Welcome back! This update features the official Words Unlocked 2017 Contest Guidelines, our "Oops!" page and our WU17 Calendar and Lesson Plans.

Words Unlocked 2017 Contest Guidelines

The official WU17 Contest Guidelines are here! Click the link to view them.


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Words Unlocked is BACK for 2017!

In the spirit of National Poetry Month (April), and in an effort to encourage literary exploration by young people held in locked juvenile facilities, we are proud to announce that we will be running our month-long poetry writing initiative and competition, Words Unlocked, again this year.

This year's theme is Authenticity! Authenticity is commonly referred to as "being real" and true authenticity requires a genuine sharing of our inner selves, irrespective of the consequences. Very often, our actions in a given moment do not always reflect our authentic selves in that we alter or mitigate our behavior to avoid such a consequence. Being inauthentic, though, can constrain our growth and self-esteem. Being authentic requires a genuine sharing in the present moment and requires us to care enough to ensure that our words and actions reflect our intention. Through Words Unlocked we hope to encourage young people held in locked facilities to explore this theme and voice their truths about authenticity.

All materials for the initiative are available at our Words Unlocked website, which will house a robust set of tools available for public use: daily lesson plans and teacher-ready classroom materials. Check back often, as we will continue adding material! Please share the website with anyone and everyone you know who might help get these materials to teachers working with incarcerated youth. We hope to have thousands of students kicking off Words Unlocked 2017 on April 3rd.

Far too many young people are locked up around the country. Through this initiative, we continue to ensure that their words are not.

The Words Unlocked 2016 theme was interconnectedness. Take some time to read and listen to what young people held in locked facilities had to say through their poetry and podcasting about being connected to themselves, to others, to the world.

words unlocked tether
lives, interconnectedness
through absent presence

The Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings

We help alternative schools inside locked facilities implement transformational, student-focused practices, designed to significantly improve the life chances of the students they serve.