Theory of Change

In June 2018, the Dodge Foundation adopted a vision for the future centered on equity with a revised mission, values, a new equity definition, goals, and a strategic plan to guide us. We confirmed that, for us, equity means aligning our resources to address historical, institutional, and structural impediments so that New Jerseyans of all races and communities have what is needed to realize a quality life. 

Since then we have been in a deep learning and growth process where we developed a new equity theory of change for the Poetry Program. This learning and exploration process has been challenging and enriching, as we’ve worked to envision how the Dodge Poetry Program and Festival could better confront inequities in New Jersey.

The Dodge Poetry Program has been sending poets into high schools, producing mini-festivals for high school students and offering High School Student Day at the Festival for over 30 years. In that time, attendance at our Festival and Schools Program events has totaled approximately 120,000 high school students and over 25,000 teachers from 43 states as far away as Florida, Maine, Minnesota, California and Hawaii.

In the first decade of the program, most of these opportunities were offered to schools that initiated contact with us, typically from largely white upper-middle class and middle-class communities. Over the last decade, we have shifted to a model of pro-actively engaging with school districts in Newark, Trenton, Cumberland County, and others with high student populations of young people of color and white young people from low-income neighborhoods in the hope of reaching more students in districts that otherwise might not have the resources to bring guest artists or poets into the classroom.  

Our new equity theory of change: 

If we can increase the opportunities for young people of color and white young people from low-income neighborhoods to engage more meaningfully and more often with poets who share their identities and life experiences, 

Then those young people will become lifelong readers of poetry and develop soft skills, and poets of color will have more professional opportunities, which will raise their professional profiles, their presence in teaching materials, and the frequency with which they receive equitable compensation. 

This over-arching theory of change is comprised of two mutually supportive components: 

1.    If we increase the opportunities for young people of color and white young people from low-income neighborhoods to engage with poets who share their identities and life experiences, then those young people are more likely to connect, engage with and access poetry in a transformative way that increases the likelihood they will stay engaged with poetry, further developing their life skills, agency and voice.  

2.    If we can increase opportunities for poets of color, then we can help raise their professional profiles, increase their exposure, and, by setting the precedent of fair and equitable compensation for poets, increase the odds that they and other poets will receive equitable compensation. 

Over the next three years we will: 

  • Focus all of our poet visit and mini-festival expenses in districts selected from those with 51 percent or higher student populations on assisted or free-lunch programs, which, because of New Jersey’s highly segregated communities, will be mostly those with high populations of people of color.  
  • Create more opportunities for poets of color to increase their professional profiles by building the roster of poets of color we send into schools and present at the Dodge Poetry Festival. This will create a career advancement pipeline for poets of color, and increase opportunities for young people of color and white young people from low-income neighborhoods to engage with poets who share their identities and life experiences. 
  • Continue to implement and adapt our submissions process for Dodge Poets to build a roster of poets that more closely reflects the diversity of New Jersey.  
  • Expand the distribution of the materials produced by our work with these poets of colorPoetry Kits for Teachers, Spring & Fountain Poem Packets, Festival Videos, etc.which will increase the diversity of the poets in materials teachers, students and the general public can access, and raise the professional profiles of these poets. We will also experiment with a variety of partners to create more non-academic frameworks for engaging with poetry and to reach populations of young people not accessible through school outreach.