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Local student helps honor former U.S. poet laureate


Originally published 7:11 p.m., February 7, 2014
Updated 7:11 p.m., February 7, 2014

Derek Young, a junior at Cabrillo High School, discovered he has a talent for poetry and now finds himself linked to a former poet laureate of the United States.

Before completing his program earlier this year at Los Prietos Boys Camp, Derek wrote such impressive poetry that he was named Los Robles High School’s first poet laureate. On Jan. 25, he took part in a ceremony near the camp to honor the 100th birthday of the late William Stafford, a former U.S. poet laureate.

Los Robles High School is operated by the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) at Los Prietos Boys Camp, a juvenile detention facility for boys that is operated by the county Probation Department.

Stafford, a registered pacifist, declared himself a conscientious objector when he was drafted in 1941. As a result, he did forestry and soil conservation work for four years in various government camps. From 1942 to 1944 he was stationed at Los Prietos Civilian Public Service Camp, which was adjacent to the current Los Prietos Boys Camp.

Derek, 16, was one of several readers at the Jan. 25 ceremony at the First Crossing Day Use Area in Los Padres National Forest, where he read one of his own poems and one of Stafford’s. The local event, which was attended by more than 50 people, was part of a worldwide celebration this year of Stafford’s life and work.

The faculty at Los Robles began devoting more time to poetry in English classes several years ago after a number of the boys showed talent for the art form and got excited about doing more of it. Since 2009, the school’s language arts department has published a book of poetry by the students each year. In the most recent volume, “Bridges,” the boys express their struggles to cross the bridge from boyhood to manhood.

After learning of the camp’s connection to Stafford, the school honored Derek as its first poet laureate for the overall quality of his submissions. Other awards were presented to boys who created the best poems based on the book’s theme. “Down in My Heart,” Stafford’s memoir of camp life that was published in 1948, will soon become part of the Los Robles students’ assigned reading.

Mark Leufkens, the director of SBCEO’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools, said the school’s staff deserves the credit for the poetry project, which has taught many students to express themselves effectively and has given them more self-confidence.

“I’m just really impressed with the way they started the program and the way they’ve grown it, and by the dedication of everyone involved. This poetry project has not only proven relevant to the students’ lives, but it’s aligned to state curriculum standards as well,” Leufkens said.

“I would like to give a special thanks to Instructional Assistant Coleen Hefley. Without her dedication and expertise, this project may not have blossomed into such a rewarding outcome for our students,” said Los Robles teacher Victor Prato.

Stafford wrote poetry in his spare time at the camps, but none of his work was published until he was 48 years old. That first major collection, “Traveling Through the Dark,” won the 1963 National Book Award for Poetry. In 1970, Stafford was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that is now known as poet laureate of the United States. In 1975 he became the poet laureate of Oregon and in 1992 he won the Western States Book Award for lifetime achievement in poetry. He died in Oregon in 1993.

For more information on Los Robles High School and the SBCEO Juvenile Court and Community Schools program, go to jccs.sbceo.org.