Seventh Grade Students Engage at Latinx KidLit Book Festival

by Anton Malko


In an energizing glimpse of the creativity and rigor that have continued to thrive amid challenging conditions, the Seventh Grade Class at the Birch Wathen Lenox School was awarded new books for the school library for its participation in December’s Latinx KidLit Book Festival. 


Prior to a poetry slam featuring poets Amyra Leon, José Olivarez and Elisabet Velasquez, a question submitted by BWL Seventh Grader Jasmine Sih-Feiertag was featured in a Q&A to kick off the festival with New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo. “At what age did you write your first poem?” asked Jasmine, as read aloud by moderator Alfredo Celedón Luján, President of The National Council of Teachers of English. 


"I wrote my first poem at eight years old,” replied Ms. Acevedo, whose books include The Poet X, winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature; With the Fire on High, named a best book of the year by the New York Public Library, NPR, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal; and Clap When You Land, a Boston Globe Horn Book Honor recipient and a Kirkus finalist. A National Poetry Slam Champion from New York City who holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland, Ms. Acedvedo was drawn back to her childhood by Jasmine’s question. 


"I was really moved by what I was seeing in my neighborhood and when I was growing up, and this pure sense of justice, to some extent, that we need to stop violence,” Ms. Acevedo said. “Even at eight years old, I was trying to put my voice to some really difficult things. It’s probably why I encourage young people so much to write and create, and to hold on to their work, because it meant a lot to me to have a place to put my thoughts and feel safe that they could exist there."

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo (pictured with moderator Alfredo Celedón Luján, President of The National Council of Teachers of English) answers question from Jasmine Sih-Feiertag, '26. 


As a prize for the selection of Jasmine’s question, the BWL Library receives a shipment of a new young-adult novel debuting in March, further enriching the BWL community with diverse voices as the school nurtures the next generation of students, artists and active citizens of the world. "I am grateful that my question was chosen and glad we could contribute to the school's library,” Jasmine said. “I very much appreciate all of the books that were given to the school. It was a great experience being able to virtually connect with these skilled poets during the pandemic. My favorite aspect of poetry is that it is a very expressive form of art and that there is a vast amount of creative freedom. You can experiment with poetry and find your way along as you go since there are so many beautiful styles." 


Headmaster Frank J. Carnabuci III hailed the spirit and talent of the students, poets, faculty and staff, all of whom have united to create significant educational experiences that defy limitations set by societal conditions. "It continues to be a transcendent outcome as our students engage with meaningful opportunities that go beyond making the most of a hybrid learning model,” Mr. Carnabuci said. “At BWL, we have always actively sought to go to the place where learning, diversity and creativity take place." 


Such a broad experience across disciplines made the festival an ideal event to further the school’s mission to actively engage in socially conscious scholarship. "We as faculty are trying our best to maintain both creativity and rigor during such challenging times,” said Dr. Isabel Dominguez, Ph.D. Spanish Teacher, Seventh Grade Advisor and Co-Chair Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. “In this event, students were able to connect to the event in different ways that were meaningful for each of them." 


Lori Kennedy, Director of Middle School, praised students and faculty for their mutually supportive pursuit of learning. “Dr. Dominguez has been instrumental as the co-chair of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee at school. Her work with the committee, as well as her outreach to the students, is also borne of her own passions for poetry, literature, art, and self-expression. To have an educator share those passions in a way that also exposes our students to opportunities to learn from diverse performers and artists is invaluable. We are fortunate to have faculty and administrators who have made this a priority." 


Classroom preparation and individualized workshops put students in position to be positive contributors to the event, which came as BWL prepares to host the second annual Global Poetry Festival this spring. Assistant Headmaster Ryan Clinesmith, who worked with Dr. Dominguez and her class prior to the Latinx Festival, said the energy of BWL’s young poetry signals a vibrant creative community that has thrived amid pandemic conditions, an exciting forecast for the upcoming Global Poetry Festival. "It's inspiring to witness our students develop their voices as artists, defying any limits that our current world may seek to impose on them, creatively and literally,” said Mr. Clinesmith, who also serves as BWL’s Poet and Writer in Residence. “We are grateful to the organizers of the Latinx KidLit Book Festival and extremely proud of our students’ participation." 


The 2021 Global Poetry Festival will showcase an expanded membership in April, with students from Bennington College and the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa joining the event along with poets Juan Felipe Herrera and Taylor Mali. They add to a vibrant community that returns from the festival’s 2020 premiere, which featured students from 11 schools across four states, Washington, D.C., the United Kingdom and Europe; and more than 25 esteemed literary artists from four continents.


With these ongoing opportunities to connect to important local, regional and global events, wherever they are held, The Birch Wathen Lenox School continues to provide a traditional, rigorous academic program while placing an uncommon emphasis on nurturing the individual and supporting the community.