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Release: July 31, 2002

UI’s Marvin Bell will teach poetry to workshop to urban educators, Aug. 8-17

America SCORES, a nationwide after-school program that combines soccer and creative writing, will bring educators from cities across the country to the University of Iowa campus for a specially designed workshop for writing teachers, Aug. 8-17.

Internationally known for its writing programs, the UI provides an ideal environment for the first annual America SCORES/University of Iowa Urban Teachers’ Workshop. The workshop will be taught by Marvin Bell, the Iowa Poet Laureate and the Flannery O’Conner Professor of Letters at the famed Iowa Writers Workshop.

America SCORES is an urban youth development program serving public elementary school children across the country. By combining soccer and poetry, America SCORES develops teams of children who work to excel at literacy and athletics. Working after school five days a week with their writing and soccer coaches -- the teachers who will be participating in the Urban Teachers’ Workshop -- kids in the SCORES program learn the importance of teamwork, commitment and leadership while practicing dribbling and writing haikus.

Bell says, “I have great admiration for the goals and achievements of America SCORES. It’s a program on the side of the angels, making a tangible difference in the education of youngsters at a crucial time in their development.”

The first annual America SCORES/University of Iowa Urban Teachers’ Workshop will bring urban educators from public elementary schools in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, to Iowa to benefit from the programs in writing at the UI. The intensive, 10-day course will expose these urban educators to new methods and materials they can use to enhance writing instruction in their schools.

The workshop will be led Bell, assisted by teacher, writer and activist Cecile Goding. They will give the participating teachers an opportunity to learn how poetry can be used as a gateway to literacy for public school children. Through a series of readings by guest authors, poetry workshops, and best-practices sessions, the teachers will gain new tools to use in some of the nation’s most challenged public schools.

For the UI, the program presents a unique way to share its writing programs with a hard-to-reach audience, allowing even a child from Washington Heights in New York City to benefit. Bill Decker, UI associate vice-president for research and the university’s liaison for the program, says, “By partnering with America SCORES on this project, the University of Iowa has a wonderful opportunity to act on its stated core values, including learning, community and responsibility. As we assist America SCORES in achieving its teaching, philanthropic and societal goals, we help to meet our own institutional responsibilities to society and to the development of an inspired, educated citizenry."

This impact will not stop at the teachers who are participating in the workshop. In return for a chance to attend, teachers must take what they have learned and share their knowledge with the other teachers in their schools. Teachers who attend the workshop will also participate in a curriculum committee which will work to incorporate lessons and best practices from Iowa into America SCORES’ poetry curriculum, which is used by hundreds of teachers nationwide.

Based on the success of this year’s workshop, America SCORES and the UI plan to expand the program to involve more teachers, with the goal of using materials developed at the Urban Teachers’ Workshop to train entire school systems on the use of poetry in the elementary school classroom. Paul Caccamo, president of America SCORES, comments: “Through America SCORES’ partnership with the University of Iowa, we have found an ideal way to develop poetry as a teaching tool. For challenged students, poetry is a wonderful mechanism for developing a love of literacy. The University of Iowa has had unparalleled success in teaching writing to older students. We believe the America SCORES/University of Iowa Urban Teachers’ Workshop will translate this success to the nation’s youngest and neediest students.”

Bell, who has been called “a maverick” and “an insider who thinks like an outsider,” is the author of 17 books of poetry and essays. Of Bell’s newest collection Judith Kitchen says, “Bell has redefined poetry as it is practiced today.” According to the Harvard Review, “It’s tough to come away from (“Nightworks”) not believing that Bell has the largest heart since Walt Whitman.”

Bell has received the Lamont Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and Senior Fulbright appointments to Yugoslavia and Australia.

“Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See” was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1977. In March 2000 Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack named Bell the state’s first poet laureate, an appointment that we recently renewed.

Bell is a longtime member of the Writers’ Workshop faculty. He has also taught at Goddard College and the Universities of Hawaii and Washington. His former students include Rita Dove, James Tate, Jorie Graham, John Irving and current workshop faculty member James Galvin.

Bell has been invited to read his poetry at the White House, the Guggenheim Museum, the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress. A graduate of the Writers’ Workshop, he also holds a bachelor’s degree from Alfred University and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.

The first annual Urban Teachers’ Workshop has been made possible through the generous support of the UI and the Florence V. Burden Foundation.