As an organization with a background in community radio and ethnomusicology, Jack Straw Cultural Center is committed to helping individuals from different cultures preserve their stories and traditions, both for themselves and to encourage understanding in the larger community.
We have produced immigration programs with many different schools and community partners, each program designed to meet the particular student needs. Students participate in a one to three month residencies at schools and in our studios. Students create their audio stories through integrated arts curricula with teaching artists from several arts disciplines, including theater, writing, music, and technology. Students write poems and stories, read their stories out loud, write songs from their words, create sound effects to enhance their stories, and record and create a final audio piece. Our team also helps students create audio stories by selecting topics, conducting interviews, writing and recording narration, and editing and mixing their audio pieces.
Poet Merna Ann Hecht, ELL teachers Carrie Stradley and Kristin Tregillus, and Jack Straw's team of artists worked with Foster High School English Language Learners, helping them tell their stories in English through poetry. Jack Straw's vocal coaches helped students read their poems out loud in the classroom. The students then recorded their poems in the Jack Straw studios where the students received individual vocal coaching, provided each other with feedback, and helped the engineers with the recording process.
Students in our 2014 project came from Bhutan, Burma, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guinea, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Somalia, Thailand, Uganda, and Vietnam. The Stories of Arrival project culminated with an anthology, audio CDs, this web page, and the airing of Jack Straw-produced radio pieces on KBCS-FM.
Foster High School is the only high school in the most linguistically diverse school district in the nation, according to The New York Times. The students are immigrants and refugees from across the globe. All have left behind members of their family on their journey here. They will most likely be the first in their families to graduate from high school.
"In bold and subtle lines and strokes of color, these young poets bring us their stories. Through the reds of their heartbreaks, the yellows of the sun shining on them in their home countries, the greens of dancing trees near a village, or the dull color of fear, our world takes on deeper tones. . . . It is a distinct honor to have worked closely with these gifted young potes and to have helped them discover and claim their voices."
-Merna Ann Hecht
"Over the course of the project, I've seen my students grow in their understanding of one another, in their command of the English language, and in their ever-evolving identity of themselves. Not only did they learn the fine art of crafting poetry through repetition, strong imagery, and sensory details, but they have learned to use their voices with expression, rather than the utilitarian English they use to navigate high school. They have shown us all another side of who they are, where they come from, and what they bring with them to our community."
-Carrie Stradley, ELL Teacher, Foster High School
The Stories of Arrival poems were broadcast in April 2014 as part of National Poetry Month on KBCS. Jack Straw produced a series of radio pieces for broadcast, each featuring two or three of the students' poems and music by Jack Straw artist Victor Noriega.
Here is the first radio piece, featuring Foster poets Hae Ta Eh and Rita Rai:
You can hear all the poems as they appear on the CD below.
Foster High School student with Jack Straw teaching artist Meg McLynn. All photos on this page by Sherwin Eng
Foster student with Jack Straw
teaching artist Christine Marie Brown
Foster students with Jack Straw
engineer CJ Lazenby
Stories of Arrival: Youth Voices 2014
Thla Tin Uk:
Heidy Mejia Echeverria:
Oscar Novarro Dominguez:
Amadou Thierno Bah:
Hae Ta Eh:
Cing Zam Lun:
Jovanny Ezequiel Herrera Garcia:
Ba Blue Htoo:
Sui Lian Thang:
Vung San Dim:
Vung Za Huai:
Paloma Landin Ruiz:
Luis Angel Ocampo:
Abyan Abdi Arab:
Van Ro Ceu:
Jack Straw engineer Tom Stiles with Foster students and Christine Marie Brown