Foster High School: Stories of Arrival 2019-20

Stories of Arrival: Youth Voices is a community partnership project between Foster High School, Jack Straw Cultural Center, and the Institute for Poetic Medicine in Palo Alto, CA.

Poet and project director Merna Ann Hecht, co-director and ELL teacher Carrie Stradley, 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 2019-20 project came from Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Samoa, Somalia, the Philippines, Uganda, and Vietnam.

Listen to the students’ poems below.

“For the past six years we have had the good fortune to partner with Jack Straw Cultural Center and welcome the Jack Straw voice coaches to the classroom before the students travel to the studios to record their poetry – always a highlight of the project. They are thrilled with the individual attention they receive before and during the recording and they report a sense of pride and accomplishment from successfully recording their poems.

“This year, we integrated elements of visual art to generate a broadside project that resulted in eye-catching visual poems and student created self-portraits. The intent was to exhibit these broadsides in numerous places to widen the community spaces for young immigrants and refugees to tell their own stories and to speak with the power of their own voices. Each self-portrait and visual poem speaks of the experiences of leaving a homeland and of the courage it takes to cross borders with hopes and dreams for the future. The broadsides are important reminders that we dispel stereotypes and unfair bias when we gain insights and understanding into our struggles, our triumphs and our individual and cultural identities. At a time of uncertainty with a global pandemic and the very real threat to our planet from climate change, we stand strong with our students in their hopes for a more humane and sustainable world. This year’s project is not only one with participatory art and poetry-making, it has also been one of peacemaking, something we all agree is much needed in this world.”

-Merna Ann Hecht, Project Founder and Teaching Artist
Carrie Stradley, Foster High School ELL Teacher


Merna Ann Hecht

Merna Ann Hecht

Merna Ann Hecht is a nationally known storyteller, social justice educator and published poet and essayist. She has over twenty five years of experience as a teaching artist in diverse…