Poetry Heroes

Maria Nann

Kent State students travel to local schools to share their passion for poetry with pupils

Samantha Hoover,senior English and sociology major, helps Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts student Nick Deshane write his poem in the class she helps teach as part of the “Teaching Poetry in the Schools” class at Kent State. Caitlin

Credit: Ron Soltys

Giving voice

A poetry reading by local students and teachers

Presented by the Wick Poetry Center and

the English department at Kent State

• Tomorrow

• 7 to 8 p.m.

• Student Center Ballroom

“Derrick, I feel confident today!”

When a fourth grader at Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts exclaimed this to junior English major Derrick Medina, it was a riveting moment for everyone in the room.

Samantha Hoover, senior English and sociology major, calls moments like these “happy accidents.” It was just one of many of those moments shared by the Miller South class Medina and Hoover team-teach through Kent State’s Teaching Poetry in the Schools class, taught by David Hassler.

The course is set up so that the first half of the semester, Kent State students work with Hassler to create writing prompts and watch him teach workshops in schools. The second half of the semester, they actually have the opportunity to pair up and go to different local schools and teach. Combined, the Kent State students teach 10 to 12 classes in grades ranging from third to 12th.

“We work with seasoned local teachers who look forward to Kent students coming every year,” Hassler said. “The environment is set up for them to succeed.”

The course reaches out to six area schools — Holden Elementary and Davey Elementary schools, both in Kent, Cloverleaf Intermediate School in Seville, Miller South in Akron, Barberton High School in Barberton and Maplewood Career Center in Ravenna.

Kent State students go into the elementary classrooms each week with a basic lesson plan in mind. They give the younger students examples of model poems and have them write their own.

“We try to do quick, moving exercises,” Hoover said, “because we really want to stress not over-thinking it.”

Sometimes, they try to get the elementary students to incorporate vocabulary words or other things they are learning, said Medina.

“It seems like they really try to use what they are learning,” he said. “I think it keeps them thinking.”

Hassler, the program and outreach director for the Wick Poetry Center, said the course provides Kent State students with “an opportunity to learn techniques that are often left out of traditional learning.”

Halfway through the semester, Hal Walker, a local artist and musical director for the program, comes in to work with the students. He gives songwriting and rhythm workshops and works with students to set their words to music.

“Hal infuses a lot of enthusiasm by bringing musical accompaniment to the (students’) poetry,” Hassler said.

Miller South teacher Marcia Skidmore has been with the program “from the beginning.” A grant from the Akron Community Foundation allowed Kent State to expand the program to her school.

“A lot of things have changed as we’ve gotten older and wiser,” the seventh grade teacher said, “but a lot of things have stayed the same. I don’t think I could make it through a spring without my Kent students.”

At the end of the semester, the elementary schools partner with Kent State to produce a program they call Giving Voice, which involves approximately 200 students and teachers from the six local schools. Everyone involved in the program can read their poetry or perform a song they have written.

Miller South, according to Skidmore, has students going beyond poetry, using talking sticks and performing ballet at this year’s event, which will be held tomorrow.

“It is a wonderful program,” Skidmore said. “The synergy in the room is wonderful.”

But the course is more than just a build up to a big event. It’s an opportunity to learn, and Hassler’s passion for learning rubs off on his students.

“David’s enthusiasm is just contagious,” Hoover said. “He’s very passionate. It’s so refreshing to not have a professor who is bored.”

Medina said Hassler has taught him “to keep the energy moving and acknowledge everyone’s say, but keep things productive.”

“For Kent State students,” Hassler said, “it gives them a chance to do some meaningful work and make meaningful connections with students.

“For the (elementary) school students, the Kent State students are heroes. And for me, as the instructor, I get to share in their discoveries. And I feel through this experience that we multiply ten-fold the outreach Wick Poetry has.”

Skidmore agreed, and said even she found herself engaged.

“I’ve surprised myself this year with some of the things I’ve written,” she said.

“It makes us wonder,” Hoover said, “if we’ve changed the kids more, or if they’ve changed us more.”

Medina said he has enjoyed his experience in the class.

“Just being able to enter the schools as a guest, without a curriculum,” he said, “and let these kids create for the sake of creating. It’s a good way to get out and connect with kids and share what I’m passionate about.”

For Hoover, the most rewarding part of the program has been the connections she has made. It’s about “knowing you’ve been able to bring a wonderful experience to their classroom,” she said.

“We come in as sort of these outsiders,” she explained. “The teachers will come up to us afterward and say, ‘You got him to read — he never wants to read.'”

Everyone involved has been working very hard for the past several weeks to get ready for the Giving Voice program, which will be held tomorrow, April 23, from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Kent Student Center Ballroom.

“The kids are so excited with the outcome,” Skidmore said. “But I say, no. The miracle is watching it happen.”

Contact features correspondent Maria Nann at [email protected].