Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Teachers Reminded, Students Have a Voice; Renowned Poet, Virginia Tech Professor Offers Insight at Duval Public Schools' Literacy Expo

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Teachers Reminded, Students Have a Voice; Renowned Poet, Virginia Tech Professor Offers Insight at Duval Public Schools' Literacy Expo

Article excerpt

Byline: Rhema Thompson

Nikki Giovanni implored the chuckling educators seated in front of her to remember the potential in their own classrooms in a speech Thursday that she peppered with a few off-color jokes - including the tale of a former student who learned to read by looking through a book on different "positions" for married couples.

That student, Kwame Alexander, went on to win this year's prestigious Newbery Medal in children's literature.

"The easiest thing to forget when you're young is that you've got something to say," she said.

The Virginia Tech professor and renowned African-American poet was in town Thursday to share her award-winning insight into writing and literacy with local educators as part of the Duval County Public School's first Literacy Expo.

The weeklong event is part of a citywide literacy plan adopted during the 2014-15 school year to boost reading proficiency, an issue the district has struggled with for years.

About half of the district's third-grade students do not read at grade level, according to the district. A heavy concentration of students from the district are on the list of the state's lowest-scoring 20 percent.

Research shows there are more serious consequences down the road.

A study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2012 found students not reading at grade level by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school before receiving a diploma.

Director of Duval Schools Sonya McSwain, who helped organize the district's first expo, said the focus of the event is to find new strategies for getting students college and career-ready.

"Who better a person to bring in than somebody who is nationally noted and that works currently at a university to talk to our teachers in secondary school about what students need to have in order to be prepared for the world of college and work," she said of Giovanni.

Giovanni, who rose to fame in the 1960s, is the recipient of numerous national honors, including multiple NAACP Image Awards and a Grammy nod for her 2003 album "The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection." She is a distinguished professor at Virginia Tech. …

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