The Idaho Humanities Council’s 2020 weeklong summer institute, titled Poetry as Protest:  Dissent through Song and Literature, was scheduled for July 20-25 on the campus of Boise State University.  Forty K-12 teachers had been selected to attend this institute.

The institute scholars would have helped participants explore poetry and song focusing on several themes and historical eras and planned to examine multiple minority voices and several genres, including protest music, rap, hip-hop, and slam poetry.  During the week, teachers would delve into the history of dissent and historical influences on contemporary authors and discuss ways to help students become engaged in the study and creation of poetry.

As many organizations reconsidered the prudence of hosting in-person gatherings, with great disappointment, the IHC cancelled the 2020 institute.  The primary concern centered on the safety, health, and happiness of all involved, and the board recognized the myriad adjustments that would have to be made to accommodate participants in a safe environment while preserving the residential nature of the event that makes it so unique and meaningful.

One of the chosen texts for participants was How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco.  IHC had invited inaugural poet Richard Blanco to offer the keynote and a teacher workshop during the week.  Blanco graciously offered to provide a virtual evening presentation and a daytime teacher workshop.  The virtual evening presentation was presented to 55 attendees.

About twenty teachers were able to participate in the workshop.  In the workshop, Blanco shared innovative approaches to poetry education to help students become both better writers and better readers of poetry by engaging their imagination and creativity through deep noticing and wonder. He used a method based on the Teach This Poem™ series from the Academy of American Poets, where Blanco serves as Education Ambassador, helping teachers and students around the country discover the power of poetry, especially with respect to matters of diversity and inclusion.

One teacher summed up the feelings of participants with this comment “Thank you for the great workshop. It was well worth the time, and Richard Blanco was excellent. His tips are very applicable to my classroom, and his poetry is beautiful!”