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Road to National Poet Laureate began with class assignment at Sidener Academy

Alyssa Gaines wants everyone to know that the road to earning the National Youth Poet Laureate began at Sidener Academy for High Ability Students.

Her first poem was for a class assignment, which opened a variety of opportunities for the young student — leading to national honor in a ceremony on May 20 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

“I am not bashful about saying it all started at Sidener, where I attended from second through eighth grades,” said Gaines. The inaugural Indianapolis Youth Poet Laureate graduated recently from Park Tutor High School and will attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the fall.

“My teachers at Sidener played a strong role in shaping me and putting me in the position where I am now,” Gaines said. “I had several great teachers, including Miss Opal, who supported me. They deeply cared about me.”

Julie Opal, an English and humanities teacher at Sidener Academy, always thought that Gaines was “a once in a lifetime” student.

“When she performed her poetry, you could just tell she was going to be somebody — she was going to rise and show the world what she could do, and how she could change the world with her performances and writing,” Opal said. “It’s great to see such talent and recognition come from Indianapolis Public Schools. I hope her victory in earning the National Youth Poet Laureate inspires young kids in the IPS district to work hard, dream with ambition, and give hope that they could be standing in her place one day.”

Gaines was the first laureate from Indianapolis to win the Midwest regional competition, thereby becoming one of four regional finalists to compete for the national title. The National Youth Poet Laureate program is an initiative of Urban Word; the Indianapolis Youth Poet Laureate program is its affiliate and is led by VOICES.

Gaines will hold the distinction for a year. During this time, she will lead writing workshops, speak and perform at civic and cultural events across the country, and write a monthly blog that is hosted by the Library of Congress.

She will also work to advance social justice issues important to her and advance the goals of the Youth Poet Laureate programs to cultivate and amplify youth voice and action.