Words Unlocked: A New Poetry Program for Incarcerated Teens

Starting next week, thousands of students incarcerated in juvenile detention and correctional centers around the country will participate in Words Unlocked, a poetry initiative designed to introduce young people to the transformational power of writing, give them hope, and inspire them to persevere in the terrifically hard work of changing their lives. Words Unlocked will remind us all of the talent and passion locked inside the hearts and minds of young people in the largest juvenile prison system in the world—ours.
Developed by the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS), Words Unlocked is an unprecedented effort to reach our nation’s most overlooked and underserved teens. Informed by original poems written by young men at the Maya Angelou Academy over many years, the initiative provides robust curricula and learning tools, all of which are available for public use: daily lesson plans and classroom materials, rubrics and assessments, teacher tips, and more.
Words Unlocked offers both a seven-day and a month-long poetry curriculum. Handouts and other materials are available in SMARTBoard, ActivBoard, MS Word, and PDF formats. In addition, CEEAS is sponsoring online teacher forums, weekly updates, and webcasts.
Words Unlocked includes a nationwide poetry competition open to any youth held in a secure facility. CEEAS will post student poetry on its blog, publish an online and iBook anthology, and provide training for schools on how to publish their own anthologies.

Through Words Unlocked, we hope to make reading and writing poetry accessible to thousands of incarcerated teens. We want to help young men and women find their voices and develop new, positive ways to express themselves. As R. Dwayne Betts reminds us, writing good poetry is difficult; it requires “wrestling with nouns and verbs and all the other engines of  language.”
The Words Unlocked curriculum is tough and standards-based—but it is built to work for all students, regardless of their reading or writing skills. It’s our belief that by exposing young people to poetry, and by providing teachers with a relevant, rigorous, and engaging curriculum, Words Unlocked will help students gain the courage they need to tackle the challenges in their lives with honesty, purpose, and conviction.
For more information about Words Unlocked, write to David Domenici, director of CEEAS, at ddomenici@ceeas.org.

David Domenici is the Director of the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings. David started the Center in the fall of 2011 with a mission to radically improve the quality of education provided to our nation’s most at-risk and underserved students: low-income, minority teenagers and young adults who are attending schools in alternative settings, including youth and adult correctional facilities.

Updated: February 08 2018