Senior Symposium projects bring Tracy K. Smith to KO

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Kingswood Oxford’s Senior Symposium program has been lauded as a facet of the school’s curriculum that inspires creativity, community, and collaboration. This year’s Senior Symposium class, taught by English teacher Mela Frye, has taken the program to new heights through its community-based Symposium projects. Students in the 2021-2022 Symposium class have been studying poet and author Tracy K. Smith this year, delving into her literary work and techniques. 

Mrs. Frye’s vast experience with and love for poetry drove her to institute a unique, semester-long project for her two Symposium classes. When students chose their semester projects at the start of the year, Mrs. Frye had students divide themselves into two groups: “Tracers” and “Smithies.” 

“[Smithies] can create a community project in which they find a way to bring people closer to Tracy K. Smith that aren’t in the Symposium class, so that goes for parents, other students in the KO community, alumni, or faculty,” senior Emma Levinbook said. “Or you can be a Tracer, which means that every time you read [Smith’s] work, you are looking for a specific theme or element, and you trace it throughout her work.”

The many Symposium projects being shared around campus at present come from students in the Smithy group. The Symposium students in this group decide upon the frequency and timeline of their projects, and at the conclusion of the semester, they will present to their class how they have brought the community closer to Smith. “I like this idea of a whole community sort of revolving around this work for the whole semester,” Mrs. Frye said. “That certainly aligns with the Symposium idea that it’s community-based, but it’s also student-driven.”

Emma has taken the initiative in connecting KO parents and faculty with Tracy K. Smith’s work and stories through her own blog. She publishes content such as videos that give insights into Smith’s life and professional journey, collections of student poetry inspired by Smith, and poetry workshops highlighting Smith’s literary techniques. The blog can be found linked in the Wyvern Weekly, with new posts uploaded every Friday.

Emma’s hope is to bring the community closer to the poetry genre and to Smith’s work specifically. “One thing that I really admire about Smith is that she’s so intentional and purposeful with everything that she does,” Emma said. “I wanted to teach other people about Tracy K. Smith and bring her into the community, and I think [the blog] is a really good way to foster this.”

Seniors Amrita Natarajan and Stella Risinger chose to bring Smith’s work to the KO community by collaborating on creating a podcast. While Smith served as Poet Laureate for the United States, she ran a podcast called “The Slowdown” in which she read poetry and shared personal stories. This inspired Stella and Amrita to title their podcast “The Speedup,” as both a play on Smith’s title and also a work that runs parallel to Smith’s podcast, as they highlight Smith’s poetry and share their anecdotes connecting to a specific poem in each episode.

Stella and Amrita’s podcast is shared in the Daily Bulletin and updated weekly. “Our goal in general for the podcast is to get the school involved with more of her work and to experience it and relate it to their own lives,” Stella said. Amrita has developed a greater appreciation of Smith’s poetry and enjoyed stepping out of her comfort zone in creating the podcast. “It definitely has asked me to be more reflective on her work as a whole,” Amrita said. “With the podcast, I have the privilege to do it every week, as I’m reading through the poems, so it’s definitely made me appreciate her work more.”

Mrs. Frye has seen the Symposium projects benefit her senior students immensely, and she hopes that the same impact will be felt across the rest of the KO community. “I hope [the students] get joy out of it in the learning process and in sharing it with the community, and that it allows them to deeply engage with her work,” she said. “For anyone out there who is feeling fear about poetry or jumping to the conclusion that they don’t like it or don’t understand it, they should be open to these projects because they can show how transformative, accessible, and delightful poetry can be.”