RCSD Teacher & Event Spotlight w/ Alicia Renner | Stories of Resilience Open Mic Showcase (May 23)

We are pleased to spotlight a Rochester City School District teacher for the first time ever here on 540Blog

RCSD Teacher & Event Spotlight w/ Alicia Renner

Why did you become a teacher?  

AR: I started teaching English when I moved to Mexico City. In that setting, being a native English speaker was a unique strength and I had worked with children before. I loved teaching there and decided it was something I wanted to do long term. Teaching offers a unique and exciting work experience because relationships and daily interactions with youth are at the heart of teaching. 

How long have you been a teacher at school #17?

AR: This is my fourth year at School #17. I worked at Young Mothers & Interim Health Academy the year before I started here.

What inspires you to continue teaching in the RCSD district despite the challenges?  

AR: I love my students in the RCSD and I feel like I grow personally and professionally because of the relationships I form with my students. I often feel that my students and colleagues are an extension of my family. While I was looking for a teaching job in Rochester, my goal was to work in a bilingual setting with native Spanish-speakers. I love working with native Spanish speakers because I can learn and grow from them, using and improving my language skills in an authentic setting – something I may not have in other districts. For me, the RCSD is an exciting place to be, especially at School #17, where we’ve made tremendous growth in the past few years and are continuing to improve using a community school model.

How did this Student Open Mic Event come to be?

AR: A couple of years ago I had an idea to incorporate a theme of Stories of Resilience into my Spanish Language Arts curriculum. I implemented it last year and wanted to expand it to give students a greater opportunity to express themselves and their unique voices. We talk often about student-centered practices so when I got an email from the Gandhi Institute offering a grant for a Healing Hate grant, I jumped on the opportunity. I asked all of my students who would be interested and a handful signed up. We began planning and decided to focus on poetry, singing, and photography as expressions of their own stories, strengths, and beauty. I reached out to Calvin and he came in to meet with the group of students. The focus throughout has been to give students voice and choice in the event and the process of planning it.

How did you decide to involve 540WMain Communiversity with this event?

AR: I have followed Calvin and 540WMain’s social media pages and have seen the great work they’re doing in the community. From seeing the events they offer and issues in which they’re interested, I thought it would be a perfect fit.

How have students been engaged in producing this event?

AR: Students have been a part of the whole process, from writing the initial application to meeting with Calvin for early planning and creating their poems. They learned a little about grant writing and the importance of documenting the process. Students met with community members Calvin Eaton, Maria Engels from the Gandhi Institute, and poet Anderson Allen to prepare. Anderson, who uses the name ‘Poetically Undefined,’ came into our school to meet with students several times, performed his poetry, listened to their poems, and gave genuine feedback for improvement. Anderson was able to connect with students and inspire them to tell their stories in a way I wasn’t. Students also worked individually and in small groups with staff within the school. The students chose the messages they wanted to convey in their work – a fundamental part of the project. I’ve told them so often that this is about them and hearing their voices that they’ve become quick to remind me, “this is our thing,” when I try to micromanage.

What can the community expect from this show?
  • “Peace, working together, people trying to make a better place, love.” –Ashanti and Michaela, 8th grade students.
  • This open mic night is a chance for us to “express our selves, to tell what we feel, tell what’s in our hearts.” “Putting our hearts into the performances.” –Miche, 8th grader.
What do you hope the community gains from this show?

“A change.” “Helping out.” “Getting involved.” -8th grade students.

  • We hope that the community realizes that we, as youth, have passion and we have a voice.
  • Most importantly, we hope they enjoy our music, poetry, and photography. “I hope it’s an eye-opener. You know how sometimes
  • “To get an idea of what people in Rochester, in our community, and people in general, the problems they face.” –Da’Sean
  • “We hope you see our talent.” -Allizeya
  • “Kids’ perspectives.” –Miche & Allizeya
What can the community expect from the photo exhibit?

AR: The photo exhibit will be displayed in a photo slideshow. All photos were taken by students, under the guidance of LeShell Beaty. Their theme was “Bringing Out the Beauty” in our community. The photos give snapshots of our daily lives and “kids doing good in the neighborhood.” 

Why should folks come out to this event?

AR: You don’t often see kids our age “talk about real things and issues that matter to us.” The event is also sponsored by the Gandhi Institute, 540WMain and 1872 Café. We think it’s important to support local businesses and organizations and attending this event is an easy and fun way to do that. 

“To see what your child has to say. Maybe they can understand what we’re going through.” –Miche, 8th grade.


Is there anything else you’d like the readers to know? 

AR: This is the first time this group of kids have participated in an event like this. It’s been a beautiful experience to watch them get in front of their peers to perform songs and poetry, and show photos of themselves and others – all of which requires a level of vulnerability that was often uncomfortable for them. My favorite part of the process was letting go and allowing the students to be the conductors. 

Attend this important showcase Thursday May 24th // 6:30 PM at 1872 Cafe (431 W.Main Street)



 About Alicia Renner
Alicia Renner has been an educator for over ten years, both in the RCSD and in Mexico City, where she lived for five years. She is currently an 8th grade Spanish Teacher at RCSD community school Enrico Fermi School #17

Published by Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a non-profit online and community-based organization for accessible education and events that promote justice for all.

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