California Poets in the Schools began in 1964 at San Francisco State University as the Pegasus Project, placing poets in the classrooms in the Bay Area to read poetry to children. The poets soon began teaching children to write poetry, and the program evolved to include the students’ active participation in the writing process.
California Poets in the Schools became a statewide organization in the mid-1970s and there are now CPITS programs in 29 counties from Humboldt to San Diego. It is estimated that since 1964 a half million students have been introduced to creative writing by CPITS poets. Since 1987, CPITS has placed a yearly average of over 150 poets in more than 300 schools across the state to work with 25,000 students in grades Kindergarten through Twelfth. Over 100,000 poems are written every year by students in CPITS poetry workshops; some of the best are collected in local, regional and statewide anthologies every year.
California Poets in the Schools began with funding from the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Since that time CPITS has diversified its funding base with support from corporate, community, and private foundations, and a membership and an individual donor program.
- The program’s primary focus is to encourage students to write, using their imagination, life experience, and special perceptions to create poetry.
- CPITS Poet-Teachers are all accomplished, writers. They are from diverse cultural and ethnic heritages and from all walks of life. An enormously talented group of individuals, they are dedicated to bringing the possibilities of creative expression through poetry into the classroom.
- CPITS poets serve as living models of commitment to imaginative language and creativity and are uniquely capable of sharing an artist’s insights with students.
Since July 1998, CPITS has received funds and support from the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the San Francisco Art Commission, and the San Francisco Department of Children Youth and their Families. Private and Corporate foundations include the ArtCouncil, Inc., the Good Works Foundation, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the Miranda Lux Foundation, the Marin Community Foundation, the Zellerbach Family Fund, California Casualty Group, Fireman’s Fund Foundation, St. Paul’s Companies and the Insurance Industry Charitable Fund, the Magnetic Poetry Company and hundreds of individual donors.
These donations have enabled the organization to provide full-subsidies and matching funds for extended poetry residencies, special events, publications, and conferences and training sessions to bring poetry alive for thousands of California youth.
California Poets in the Schools is now the largest writers-in-schools program in the nation. It maintains its roots in the diverse communities of California. Local Area Poet Coordinators administer the program in their counties, with a policy to place poets in schools in their own communities, often in their own immediate neighborhoods. Whether the school and community reflect an urban multicultural/bilingual population, a suburban environment or a rural farming area, CPITS has poets available who are of that community and familiar with its mores and values.
California Poets in the Schools endeavors to:
- make creative writing and art, as well as poets and artists, an integral part of the educational lives of young people;
- encourage young people to recognize, examine, and value culture, imagination, perception, artistic integrity, and creativity;
- foster an appreciation for self expression
- provide students with the role models demonstrating the importance of creative writing and art
- share and affirm the cultural diversity of California by hiring poets and artists of color, as well as by bringing multicultural materials into the classroom.
“Listen to these young poets and you’ll discover the voice of the present and hear the voice of the future before the future is even here.”
— Philip Levine