Updated: Dec 31, 2020
No surprise that a WordPlay program, let alone one called WordUP, would have a celebration of words at its very core. In this after-school program at Aiken High School, named by the students themselves when it began back in 2012, new words are devoured as fast as the snacks. Unfamiliar vocabulary encountered in readings shared aloud by the entire group is greeted with a spirit of challenge and excitement, parsed and digested, soon to reappear on handwritten pages as the WordUP teens craft responses to the day’s conversation.
For close to four years now, Sophomore Jai’Nya Chinn has been a WordUP regular. She is a prolific and fearless writer, bookworm, and natural but unassuming leader among her peers. Throughout the pandemic, Jai’Nya has continued to maintain her status on the honor roll at school, and writing remains an outlet and a source of connection for her.
Theresa Kulbaga has been at the helm of WordUP since the fall of 2014, along with our longest-serving volunteer, WordUP co-leader, Sam Foulkes. A professor in the English Department at Miami University, Hamilton campus, Theresa puts social justice and equity at the center of her work, encouraging her students to direct their own unique paths to learning while fostering a strong sense of community and co-creation. And, a love of words.
Back in October, Jai’Nya and Theresa visited a recording studio at our partner organization, Music Resource Center, to share their experiences of learning and writing together all these years, and fill us in on their latest word discovery, sidereal. Masks and social distancing have not dampened their enthusiasm for their shared creative expression through WordUP, or their connection to each other and the rest of the WordUP crew.
We invite you to pause and take a listen to their conversation, and we thank all who have made this and so many other transformative experiences possible for young people through the pandemic.
A highlight from later on in the interview: You'll hear about Jai'Nya's experiences in 2018, when the WordUP students spent months processing the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The WordUP teens designed a peaceful action to demonstrate against gun violence on the first national school walkout day March 14, 2018, fully supported by Aiken Principal Lisa Votaw. The WordUP kids led the school walkout, where they had prepared the entire student body of 800+ to link arms and form a human chain around the building, representing their embrace of the students at Stoneman Douglas. Jai'Nya was interviewed by multiple news reporters at the event, and created a poem inspired by Theresa's prompt, asking students to stretch to imagine the tragedy of the shooting from all the different perspectives of those involved:
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