Club allows students to find their voice

Misha Sibiglia and Rosanna Harshman have big dreams for their newly formed Huntington Beach High School student organization, HB Voices.

The two English teachers hope that the spoken word club will encourage students to enter various poetry competitions around the county and the state. They also want to start an open mic night in a location reminiscent of a hazy, coffee-aroma café in Seattle.

But the educators are aware that their nascent project needs a little nurturing at this stage.

"We know that the club itself is a work in progress," Sibiglia said. "It's going to take a few years to really get it off the ground and make it really become what we hope it will become. It's all baby steps. We'll get there."

Sibiglia and Harshman started HB Voices to give students an outlet to share a passion for poetry and spoken word. The two watched a TED Talks video of Sarah Kay, a popular spoken word poet, about a year ago and were inspired to start a club at the school.

"We try to do a lot a character building in our classrooms," Harshman said. "We're English nerds, so we like to read and we love poetry. Tied with that is trying to find out who you are, becoming better people and teaching our students to find their voice and make it strong and influential."

Poetry and spoken word are similar, Sibiglia said, in that both circle around a theme or lesson. It is in the way spoken word is performed that differentiates one from the other.

"Spoken word poems are a bit more narrative," she said. "They usually tell more of a story than some of the more traditional poets will tell. They're still symbolic a lot of times, but there is more of that idea that there's a story being told."

Sibiglia and Harshman said hand gestures and emphasis on words can make a performance more powerful. They added that dances and music sometimes accompany an act.

Everything fell in place for the two educators when they presented the idea of starting the club. They had support from assistant principals Jason Ross and Karen Dabney and were able to get funding from the Huntington Beach PTSA.

"Jason's just a huge fan. He loves it so much," Sibiglia said. "When we went to him with the idea, we were super lucky that he was on board. And Karen Dabney has a background in spoken word. She used to do it a lot."

About 40 students are registered in HB Voices, Harshman said, but the attendance at the weekly meetings fluctuates between 10 and 25 students.

"It's during lunch, so it's hard for them to come sometimes," Sibiglia said.

Senior Curtis Kotchnik, 18, said he joined the club because he wanted to get some feedback from his peers about the humor rap songs he had been scribbling down since his sophomore year.

Kotchnik, who plays on the school's football and wrestling teams, said he would create funny freestyle raps for his teammates to lighten up the mood on the sidelines.

He draws inspiration from musician Weird Al Yankovic, making parody songs of things he encounters in life. Kotchnik even wrote a rap song for a class assignment.

"I took 'Gangster's Paradise' by Coolio, and I made a song about my own kind of paradise or my comfort zone," he said.

While Kotchnik strives to make his classmates laugh, freshman Lorenzo Watkins said she tries to make people think.

"I like to just talk about controversial things, like feminism or how people are labeled a lot," Lorenzo, 15, said.

Kotchnik said he hopes HB Voices will continue to grow as an outlet for students to express their thoughts.

"I'm surprised we haven't had a club like this before," he said. "This is just what the school has needed. It's a place where kids can go and write what they feel."

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