I’ve heard a lot of complaints about teenagers lately. They’re perceived as moody, obnoxious, and especially when in a herd, intimidating. As someone who writes books and magazine articles for teens, I feel the need to remind the grown-ups that if you look past those stereotypes, you’ll find incredible energy and talent. In fact, it’s right there on the corner of First and Roosevelt at Proviso Math and Science Academy.

PMSA senior and Forest Park resident Nick Galassini recently got five of his classmates together to participate in Louder Than a Bomb, an annual Chicago youth poetry festival. It was something he’d been thinking about for a while.

“My dad encouraged me to enter as an individual, but I didn’t want to,” he said. “I decided to get people who I knew were creative and do something.”

He recruited Shaheim Dennis, Stephanie Hernandez, William Nicks III, Colvin Underwood, and Nedra Yore. They all love poetry and some, like Stephanie, have been writing it since fourth grade. There were aspects of the poetry slam experience that were new to them, though.

“I usually depend on a beat,” Colvin said. “I learned to let the words dictate the flow.”

Shaheim, who’s been writing since sixth grade, admitted he’d never performed before but was excited to get involved because “PMSA has never been in LTAB before, so it’s history for our school.”

They had the support of Principal Kimberly Echols. “Nick came to me with an amazing idea. We didn’t have the funding because there isn’t a poetry club, but his dad provided the team’s entry fee.”

Matthew Dillard, a computer teacher at PMSA, who’d had Nick, Shaheim and Colvin in class and discussed poetry with them before, coached them on the art of performing as individuals and as a team. The process of writing the two team pieces was hard and there was a lot of bickering, but they all agree it made their performance stronger. One group poem was based on the themes in Toni Morrison’s book Beloved, and the other was called, “My First Time.”

“We each described something from childhood, but in a way that sounded kind of vulgar,” Nick explained.

“It was a metaphor,” Stephanie chimed in. “We were relating things we’ve been through in life to our childhood.”

PMSA placed second in both of their group bouts, meaning they didn’t move on to the semi-finals as a team, but Shaheim progressed as one of 17 individual poets selected out of a group of 300.

“I don’t think of it as an individual victory though,” he said. “In my mind, PMSA went to the semi-finals, and it was a huge accomplishment for the underdogs. The other schools had a year to prepare. We only had two weeks. PMSA was super-duper-a raw!”

Nedra, the lone freshman on a team of seniors, looks forward to participating in Louder Than a Bomb again. “It’s a great opportunity to meet different people from different backgrounds and network,” she says.

Principal Echols is determined to give PMSA that chance again next year. “Although it’s a math and science academy, many students are well-rounded and love to perform. I want to foster that energy and will do what it takes to show students that we support the many ways they express themselves.”

Since they’ll have more time to prepare, she believes they can bring home first place, and if this year’s team is any indication, I do too.

So give them a hearty congratulations and think of them when you need a reminder of the brilliance that teens are capable of.

Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site http://www.stephaniekuehnert.com/.