Young Writers Program unveils talent in the halls of Tennyson Center

By Jane Thatcher

The high school English class at Tennyson Center for Children (TCC) surprised their staff and teachers this year with so much musical talent, the staff decided to put together a play based on the students’ original compositions. The show, held on May 15, not only entertained family, friends, and staff, but helped these students’ realize their talent was valid and their voices welcome.

[caption id="attachment_5993" align="alignright" width="300"]The author playing with one of the Tennyson Center's students during a rehearsal. The author playing with one of the Tennyson Center's students during a rehearsal.[/caption]

I worked with the students at TCC for several months to focus all of that talent into songs, poems, and spoken word pieces. Despite the difficult demands of treatment plans, schoolwork, and home life, we managed to pull together a full-length play, finishing some pieces just days before the show. Each piece was based on a single emotion: grief, joy, loneliness, love, etc. The show became a journey through the complex experience of being human, as seen through the eyes of the students.

What struck me most when working with the students at the Center was their naiveté about their own artistic gifts. These artists have learned to use writing and music as a process that aids more in daily survival than creating a finished product. They write to sort through their complicated lives and they sing to soothe difficult emotions. As such, they produce work that is fiercely honest and unassuming. It has a very vital, human quality to it. As songs came into being and poems were written and re-written, it was clear to me that the students were unaware of the power of their own voices.

The day of the show came. Backstage, the students were anxious. Most of them had never heard the sound of their own voice through a microphone, let alone shared a song they had written with a crowd of more than 100 people. Our first performer walked cautiously onstage. He sang his first line with terrific pitch and a soulful delivery. The crowd erupted in cheers and whistles, calling out the student’s name. The tense teenagers around me took a breath and smiled at one another. Perhaps their voices were a bit more valid and welcome than they had assumed.

Without a hitch each student took their turn. They stood, often trembling, at a single microphone in the middle of the stage. They sang about the grief that washes over us in waves of gray. They read their poetry about perseverance, rising again, and finding joy. They talked about their loneliness as “the color of a riled beast’s eyes and the liquid fear.” They told their audience about being human in a most difficult and beautiful world. After the final piece, which was our own rendition of Stand By Me, the students took boisterous, dramatic bows, laughing and singing their way off stage.

[caption id="attachment_5994" align="alignleft" width="100"]The students' hidden talents were revealed in a show of original works in May. The students' hidden talents were revealed in a show of original works in May.[/caption]

I, too, came to writing and singing by way of surviving my adolescence. Working with these students reminded me how important it is to keep young people, and myself, writing and writing and writing. Especially for the days when we forget that our voices are both valid and welcome.


The Bounceback Mentoring Program for at-risk youth, a project of The Young Writers Program at Lighthouse, is made possible by support from Sheila Fortune Foundation, John and Laurie McWethy Charitable Fund, Virginia W. Hill Foundation, Bloomfield Family Foundation, SCFD (Scientific, Cultural, and Facilities District), and many generous individual donors.

Tennyson Center for Children at Colorado Christian Home is one of the Rocky Mountain region's leading treatment centers and K-12 schools for emotionally and crisis-affected children and youth. The Center serves children ranging in age from 5-18 and is dedicated to ensuring that these kids having the fighting chance they deserve at a satisfying and fulfilling life. They provide competent and caring treatment, educational and advocacy services in an environment that is child-centered, family-focused and community-based.