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Woodburn High School students embrace opportunity to learn, perform via a visiting poet and educator's workshops

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Alejandro Jimenez encourages students during poetry workshop at Woodburn High School.The biography shared by his website describes Alejandro Jimenez as "a firm believer that words can transform, heal, and take you to places never thought imaginable."

Listening to the words of Woodburn High School students who shared writings following a session with Jimenez, it would appear that he imparts that belief quite well.

Jimenez, of Denver, made his second visit to the school in as many years May 9-10 where he shared four workshop sessions each day, while a student performance hour in the WHS auditorium ended each day.

Thursday's performance session and workshops included students from Woodburn Arts and Communications Academy (WACA) and Academy of International Students (AIS) schools. PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Academy of International Studies freshman, Uriel Carrillo, shares some of his work with fellow students in the Woodburn High School auditorium. AIS and WACA students took part in a poetry workshop May 9-10.Workshop organizer Mary Bonner described the collective as an intimate assortment.

"We hope you found the inspiration to speak and tell your story," AIS English Language Arts teacher Debbie Panton encouraged the audience before the performance session. "Speak it loud and speak it proud."

Students were urged to share something; some shared what they worked on that day from the workshop sessions, but others had material they had written previously. Most read saved documents from their smart phones, but at least one orated with good-old fashioned hard copy in hand.

One student even fudged the genre a bit, forgoing the poetry and reading a short story she had been working on instead.

For the visiting educator, the most important element comes from the heart; the writer must be in tune and honest with his or herself.

"The idea is to give them space, a platform and encourage them to be honest," Jimenez said.

While the schedule indicated a substantive two days at WHS with class time and stage readings, the writing workshops are actually a side gig for Jimenez. His full-time job is as a "restorative justice coordinator," working in the Dean's Office of CEC Early College in Denver. He coordinated the Woodburn connection through Bonner and the Oregon Writing Project.

"This really just started as a hobby and ended up turning into something cool," Jimenez said.

The Colima, Mexico, native and current Coloradan does have deep Oregon roots, however, having grown up in Hood River Valley, where some poetry he shared touches on the agricultural aspects – including fears of immigration raids – reaching back into his youth.

He is a graduate of Willamette University in Salem.

Contemporaries describe Jimenez's approach to writing guidance, which includes his own performances, as one that "tries to inspire the audience to believe in their stories, in their being, and the power of their words."PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Alejandro Bravo Canchola shares poetic thoughts of reflection on when he was 11 years old and his niece passed away. Woodburn High School students write, orate from the heart when the took part in a poetry workshop May 9-10.

His Woodburn pupils appeared to do just that in the auditorium, delivering self-composed readings imbued with a range thoughts and emotions; reflections on U.S. history tinged with racially-tilted overtones, to ponderings of teen angst, confessed self-doubt confronted face up, to anger and resolve emanating from disappointing or hurtful romantic encounters.

One reader, Alejandro Bravo Canchola, took stage clad in a "Rip City" Trail Blazers jersey, a booster's garb as it was a game day. But what he shared was far from a Nuggets-thumping trumpet call; it was a poignant reflection from his 11th year, recalling his niece dying and he noticing "one less star in the sky."

The Blazers would win later; but the heart won out in the workshop.

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