Each month, the Pleasantville High School Parent Teacher Organization holds Family Bingo Nights at the school. Each month, they're well-received - but the event has been repeated so often, it's gotten a bit stale, PTO Financial Officer Ed Drinkard said.

This month, the PTO decided to shake things up a bit, and held a spoken word poetry night Jan. 24 featuring performers from the area and beyond.

Drinkard, who grew up in culture-drenched Washington, D.C., said such an event is valuable in South Jersey.

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"I was very fortunate because I could go to the Smithsonian Museum, I could go to the (free) National Museum of Art, anytime I wanted to," Drinkard said. "Here, they go to Philadelphia. They've got to pay for it."

The event was planned as a tribute to recently returned Pleasantville High School Principal Stephen L. Townsend, who is a fan of spoken word poetry, as well as a fundraiser for the PTO, which provides grants to students and student groups.

Drinkard put the word out by contacting William "Just Bill" Peters, who runs the independent, New York-based publishing company Inner Child Press, and who brought many of his affiliated poets. Drinkard also put the word out in the local spoken word community, a few members of which volunteered to perform.

Andrea Nelson, an Atlantic City resident who teaches at Pennsylvania Avenue School was one of those who performed. She mused on her experiences as a teacher and on how pop culture influences today's youth.

"Negativity only begets more negativity, so to be in a positive environment or to put positive in an atmosphere is only going to give positivity back," Nelson said.

Drinkard said one of the top items on the PTO's agenda is getting more parents involved with the organization. It's easy to do so at the elementary level, he said, but interest wanes by high school.

The spoken word event was designed to bring in a larger crowd than the bingo nights, and although the event didn't quite meet Drinkard's expectations, he said it was a good start.

Emmely Marijn, who works at Pleasantville High School as a security guard, was among the parents who attended the event. She said it was unlike anything she'd seen before.

"I enjoyed it a lot," Marijn said. "It's a very different atmosphere, coming to it. I've never experienced something like this. It's positive."

Marijn's opinion seemed to hold for most of the attendees, who cheered and snapped their fingers as speakers performed.

Seeing the reception of the first event, Drinkard said he hopes to hold a similar program, one featuring rappers, for students this spring. He also hopes to hold spoken-word events annually or biannually.

Townsend, who sat at a table just off the stage, was enthralled by the performances, and is excited for the potential of a recurring program.

"It was good to see people coming out, laughing, enjoying themselves," Townsend said. "Nice meal, engaged in dialogue, sharing ideas - those things are beautiful."

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