Younger students find voice through Wick outreach program

Maureen Nagg

It’s like a Warhead. At first you don’t want to do it because it seems sour and bitter. But once you let the sweetness come through you begin to love it.

This is how Marcia Skidmore described poetry to her seventh-grade class at Miller South School for Visual and Performing Arts — like the red hard candy.

For the past six weeks, Kent State students have worked with Skidmore to teach poetry to her seventh graders and bring its sweetness to the surface.

Kent State students visit Skidmore’s classroom and many others throughout Kent, Ravenna and Akron as a part of the Wick Poetry Center’s “Teaching Poetry in the Schools” program.

“Teaching Poetry in the Schools” is a service-learning course that brings students into local schools and senior centers to teach poetry workshops.

All the students’ effort will culminate tonight when all the students — young and older — will read their poetry and sing songs from the lyrics they have written, at the Auditorium at 7 p.m.

During the semester-long course, students learn strategies of teaching poetry and spend the last six weeks of the semester putting their teaching and poetry skills into action.

“It’s a great pleasure for me to see the transformations in the KSU students, as they go out into the local classrooms and begin to bring back their own discoveries and teaching stories to our class,” said David Hassler, the Wick Poetry Center’s program and outreach director and teacher of the course.

Hassler and Maggie Anderson, director of the Wick Poetry Center, started the program five years ago after seeing how strong the creative writing community is at Kent State and wanting to integrate that into the community.

“Wick has always valued outreach,” Hassler said. “This course offers students a direct and profound engagement with the community, and it invites them to connect with their passion and to share that with others.”

Skidmore said after being involved with the Wick program she will never teach poetry in the same way she used to teach it.

“It’s not about limericks and haikus here,” Skidmore said. “It’s about giving them their voice and that’s what Wick does.”

Skidmore said it’s remarkable what comes out of her students from the Wick program and that it even inspires her to write things she never would have thought she could.

Michelle Schullo, graduate student in language arts education, said she was nervous when she began teaching during the program, but soon fell in love with it.

“I was fearful of the hormones and all the emotional stuff that is going on at that age, but I love them,” Schullo said. “They really draw from their life and are very connected to their bodies as an instrument.

“We think we remember what it’s like to be that age, but we don’t,” she said. “With their poetry, the secrets of adolescents open up again.”

Hassler meets with every student who registers for the course in order to inform them about the amount of involvement and responsibility the course requires, but no student is ever turned away from the program, he said.

“We want to attract students who have both a passion for writing and for teaching children,” Hassler said. “Then we fuse the two together.”

Many of the 15 students currently taking the course usually teach longer than the required six weeks and teach up to three classes a week.

“The success of this course relies in great part on the KSU students and their sense of responsibility” Hassler said. “The program is a tribute to the quality of students attracted to this course.”

Scott Parsons, an 11th- and 12th-grade teacher at Maplewood Career Center in Ravenna, said working with the Kent State students helps solidify a lot of what he preaches to his students and gives him a different perspective of his classes.

“The best thing that results from working with KSU students is a broadening of the trust and open-ended serious inquiry I hope to establish in our class,” Parsons said. “This program allows me to slip just to the side of my normal role as sole facilitator and watch my students; it’s simply energizing to collaborate.”

Contact arts and sciences reporter Maureen Nagg at [email protected].