Wick Poetry Center brings poetry to local schools

Heather Bing

Local schools write and experience poetry

Sophomore photojournalism major Josh Mintus and Ryan Motika, junior English major listen, as David Hassler instructs their creative writing class about teaching poetry to students between third and12th grades. MELISSA GAUG | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

The service-learning class Teaching Poetry in the Schools offered through the English department not only educates students, but allows them to pass that education on to others.

David Hassler, Wick program and outreach director, began teaching the semester-long class in 2002. Kent State students attend a class with Hassler focused on their creative and poetic writing and different teaching techniques, and then those students work in local classrooms with grades three through 12 teaching and writing poetry.

The semester’s work culminates in a final event called ‘Giving Voice.’ The event allows the students to present the poems they have worked on throughout the semester by incorporating music and various elements of the arts into the final presentation.

“When I began to teach this class for Kent State, I knew that I wanted to stage a performance at the end of the semester that would include not just the local students, grades three through 12, but also the teachers and the Kent State students who conducted the workshops,” Hassler said.

“Last year I had 12 Kent State students in my class and over 300 local students participating. Our performance, ‘Giving Voice,’ involved nearly 200 students.”

Hassler said he tries to create opportunities for all of the students to participate by having them perform group songs, group poems or individual readings. Six schools are involved with the program this year and are working to complete their presentations for the final event.

Marcia Skidmore, a seventh grade teacher at Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts, said this is the fifth year she has participated in the Wick outreach program’s ‘Giving Voice.’ She said her students perform a little differently at the actual event than some of the other schools.

“The other students will take the poem and give it voice,” she said. “We give it a little extra.”

Miller South is comprised of grades four through eight, but students must audition to get into the school. As a visual and performing arts school, the classes incorporate drama, dance, and visual, instrumental and vocal art into regular studies such as science, math and language arts to augment the students’ learning.

Skidmore said her students love when the Kent State students come to work in her classroom. She watches as they take the poetry and create something more.

“My dance students come up to me and say, ‘We see that poem,'” she said. “One girl said, ‘I can hear that poem.’ She could hear how her violin would perform it. We take a poem and sing to it, play with it or dance to it.”

For the Kent State students working in her classroom, the challenge is probably not how to keep her class’ attention so much as how to deal with all of their enthusiasm, Skidmore said. The students will walk in saying they have poems to share, and all of her students will have their hands in the air ready to participate.

As the Kent State students work, Skidmore likes to be in the middle of the kids’ writing and sharing. At the end of the lesson, students are asking to give voice to their work, and often the classroom participation will continue after the college students have gone.

“My kids are always asking, ‘Where’s more paper?'” Skidmore said. “I love having Wick in each spring. I tell everyone, when it’s spring the Wick family comes in. The spirit of what it’s about comes in.”

Skidmore said she anticipates about 20-30 of her students participating in ‘Giving Voice’ this year, but her students will also be presenting their work at Miller South the following week during their morning performance time.

Although her students are already interested in creativity and expression, Skidmore said the college students still have a wonderful impact in her classroom.

“I will never teach poetry the same,” she said. “It’s more than just limericks and rhymes. It’s more than writing poetry. It’s experiencing poetry.”

Kate Walley, a third grade teacher at Cloverleaf Intermediate School, said she met Hassler through a grant proposal she sent to the Ohio Arts Council six years ago. This is the second year her class has participated in “Giving Voice,” and she said her students think it’s neat working with the college kids.

“It’s a pretty big deal for them to participate,” Walley said. “They love the idea that college students come to work with them. It’s outside their realm.”

Walley teaches writing and poetry aside from the lessons through the Wick outreach program and Kent State students, but she said the students love when Hassler comes in. By making word pools and writing group poems, Hassler has her students thinking of words and images beyond their everyday language. The students don’t always know that a word is an adjective or a simile, but they recognize action and descriptive words and where to use them.

“He adds so much depth to their vocabularies,” she said. “He will share a poem by a professional poet, like Mary Oliver, or read poems that people wouldn’t think you could do with a third grader. They’ll remember all the lines in the poem.”

Walley said about eight of her students will be participating in ‘Giving Voice’ this year. She is currently working with the students participating to determine which poems they want to do, but Hassler has the final say.

At the end of each class, the students have the opportunity to read their work out loud in a sharing circle, Walley said.

“The students have all different types of handwriting, and I’ll look at some and say, is this a poem? But then they read.”

Hassler attributes the relationship that forms between the Kent State students and the elementary and high school students to the conversation of poetry. As his students become teachers, they are able to pass on their talents and enthusiasm to their own students.

“I have seen this simple, yet profound transformation happen over and over again in students, and every time I see it happen, I am just as excited,” Hassler said. “It doesn’t grow old, for I believe poetry is a gift that is meant to be passed along, shared and heard.”

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Heather Bing at [email protected].