Students find a voice through writing

"Life" by Miguel, 13, seventh-grade

When I look back at my life and

I see some despair,

Like a mean look

Like a very mean glare,


From the sins I’ve committed

To the life that I live in,

Even if life is sad

I will not stay mad,

When it comes to succeeding

It feels like I’m bleeding,

Trying to keep up while

Trying to be strong,


Even if life is too long

I’ll just have to move on.

What: Writer’s Workshop for teens with Tish Jones of Minneapolis.

When: 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Friday.

Where: Rochester Boys and Girls Club, 1026 E. Center St.

More information: 457-5460.

By Elliot Mann


"When it comes to succeeding, it feels like I’m bleeding ... ," writes Rochester seventh-grader Miguel in his poem "Life."

Miguel, 13, might be reluctant to share his writing, but as he stood at the pool table at the Rochester’s Boys & Girls Club and lined up a shot on the 8 ball, the symbolism crashed through the quiet.

He is one of a dozen teens in a writer’s workshop at the club led by Winona State University students who work on writing with the teens as a college course. The results have been personal, introspective pieces like Miguel’s dark, but hopeful poem "Life."

Many of the Rochester students are minorities or come from low-income households, said WSU associate professor Tamara Berg.

"Many are kids who are struggling, and we wanted to hear their voices," she said. "There’s despair and anger in (the writing), but through all of these poems, there’s hope."

Some of the poems reference a fear of gang violence. Others mention racism, while some students write about turbulent family issues. Miguel usually writes about school life. He hadn’t written poems before the workshop.

"It can express your feelings without having to say it out loud, and you’re letting other people know how you feel by letting them read," he said. "Some of the things are easier to write than having to say."

The WSU class gives the students a real-world, service learning experience, Berg said.


"They are having an experience, reading the effect of poverty on kids in school, and then they are able to see what they are reading played out, for better or worse," the professor said.

The subject matter — combating racism or bigotry — isn’t always easy to hear, WSU senior Rachel Pike said.

"I actually feel like I’m learning something," said Pike, 23. "This feels like it has more of an impact" than other classes.

Each week the college and middle schoolers talk about their writing, homework or collegiate planning. This Friday, the college and the Boys & Girls Club will host a writers workshop for area teens with spoken-word artist Tish Jones of Minneapolis.

Berg said she hopes the teens will gain confidence and think about college.

The writing has come more easily each meeting, Miguel said. Talking about the poems comes more freely, too. At first, Miguel was reluctant to describe "Life" to the class. But eventually, his pride took over.

"You can tell he is so proud of his poem," Berg said.

For more information, go to


Rochester’s Boys & Girls Club

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