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School administrators say the transformation of Montbello's Warriors is going well: Suspensions at the school are down and attendance rates are up, and for the first time in years, the campus is filled to capacity. While these stats include all four school programs sharing the campus — not to mention a new High Tech Early College innovation school that opened nearby — the 700 remaining old-school Montbello students boast improvement all their own: Last year, Montbello High's on-time graduation rate improved 4.6 points to 64.7 percent, the best in nearly a decade. Allen Smith, executive director of the Montbello turnaround program and all the other new and restructured schools in far northeast Denver (together called the Denver Summit Schools Network), says that's because he and his colleagues heard loud and clear the Montbello students' concerns about getting lost in the shuffle. "There are some very unique things we are doing for the Montbello students, and all of it is to ensure they are as successful as possible in high school and have the opportunity to go off to college," he says. That includes a special Kaplan ACT test-prep program, a financial-literacy program supported by the White House's Domestic Policy Council and, of course, the hip-hop project.

"I came from a radio station, and I have a major in radio and TV communications," says Smith. "I love music and the power of it, and how it engages with these students is an awesome way to help them learn. I think the engagement piece has really been effective. You can see it in the work they are doing in this program."

Bradley agrees that Jalon and the other students he's worked with at Montbello seem to be taking the school transition in stride. "These are young people focused more on the future than the receding past," he says.

"Rap is something that comes to you," says Jalon Martin.
Anthony Camera
"Rap is something that comes to you," says Jalon Martin.
Alison Corbett thinks her students "will go off and really make waves."
Anthony Camera
Alison Corbett thinks her students "will go off and really make waves."

Still, after listening to their poems this day, he admits, "There is definitely a deep well of emotion when it comes to their school — what it's meant to them and what their future will look like without it there."

*********

For maybe the first time in his life, Jalon Martin looks apprehensive. He's sitting in the lobby of Crossroads Theater in Five Points, fifteen minutes to go until the start of Slam Nuba's bi-monthly open mic and poetry slam event. The Denver-based Slam Nuba poetry organization is known far and wide: In 2011, the Slam Nuba team won the National Poetry Slam Championship. And on this night in late January, Jalon is going to get up on this stage for the first time and show Slam Nuba what he's got.

His mother sits next to him, along with his buddy Marquille, as well as Corbett and several other Montbello teachers. They're all here to cheer him on; Jalon's once again the only student in the "Hip-hop in the Classroom" program willing to raise his voice.

Soon, though, there may be more like him across the country, all schooled and inspired by Bradley's curriculum of rhymes. Next fall, Bradley will launch the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture, or Rap Lab, at CU-Boulder. Designed like a typical math or science lab, Rap Lab will involve students, post-grads and professors engaging in project-driven research, such as tracking and analyzing hip-hop's lyrical and cultural differences around the world. Then Rap Lab members will put their findings into practice through community-outreach initiatives and classroom programs like the one Bradley launched in Montbello. "It's going to be a humanities hothouse," Bradley says excitedly. "Working in the classroom has been a really inspiring influence in my intellectual life, to see it is not just as something that's external to the other work I do, but the motivating influence of creation for me."

Bradley's Montbello alums could become poster children for this ambitious initiative. "I have a sense I will hear of them in the future," says Corbett, "that they will go off and really make waves."

Maybe Jalon will be one of them — that is, if he makes it through this poetry slam in one piece. "Are you nervous?" asks Corbett.

"I'm gonna say two words and run," he cracks. Jalon's joking. Maybe.

"You could fall off the stage!" predicts Marquille.

Finally the night's MC, Slam Nuba member Jovan Mays, starts the show. "Here at this venue, we go by a chant: 'We cut heads,'" he tells the crowd. "Somewhere tonight, you are going to hear some metaphor or literary device that is going to sever you from your senses, thus making you lose your mind."

One by one, the night's poets try to cut heads with powerful works about the objectification of women and race politics and gender identity. After the rest have gone, a kid half the age of many of the performers takes the stage. "This is called 'Make It,'" Jalon says into the mike, then starts reciting lines he's learned by heart:

I just want to make it.

All of this drama surrounding me

I don't know if I can take it

He's quieter than usual, his voice quivering with emotion. It's a newer poem, one he's been polishing with the tools he's learned from Bradley. The audience hums and snaps appreciatively as he delivers a tale of lowlifes and superficial girls and cops' bullets. He rhymes about pain and anger, as he's done in his other poems:

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3 comments
andrea572
andrea572

Jalon, keep speaking the truth.  I voted NO on the proposal to close Montbello, and we need the truth to come out about what's going on down there.  Hit me up:  andrea@andreamerida.com.

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

I LOATHE rap music . The ONLY rap I have ever been able to digest is Aerosmith . Because I'm white, I'm sure 'Iceprick' will be quick to throw the 'race-card' my way but my arrogance towards rap ISN'T limited to black 'artists' . The same adheres to the likes of the Beastie Boys & Rage Against the Machine. ( The latter throws down lyrically ! )

If a teacher were to attempt that shit in a class I was assigned to, one of us wouldn't be present the following day ! 

Those who aren't able to sing,  rap ......

iLikeWhiteGirls
iLikeWhiteGirls

Yo! Alison will get the business! Only if she aint a culture vulture could she see some repeat business! Hit me up cutie!

 
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