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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Power of Poetry at Brightwood, Part IV: Poetry Slam! poems in progress

This fall, DC SCORES Digital Media Intern Paris Volpe is attending the after-school poetry sessions at Brightwood Education Campus (Elementary School) to observe how the Panthers discover "The Power of Poetry." Each week, Paris is writing about the curriculum and lesson plans of the program. Follow as she documents the progression of the students’ self-expression and writing techniques. You can also follow Paris' experiences on Twitter by following @DCSCORESinterns and view photos on Flickr.


Written by Paris Volpe
Digital Media Intern

“‘Being in soccer makes me proud.’ How can we make this sentence better?” asks Coach Rosenberg. “Add in DC SCORES!” shouts Marinella R. from the back of the classroom.

Funny, I was thinking the same thing.

“How else can we edit this sentence?” asks Coach Rosenberg. Students take turns making revisions to the example sentence. The final version is, “Playing in DC SCORES soccer games makes me proud!” Emphasis on “proud.”

“This is what I want you to work on today,” Rosenberg says. “Think about what you can add to your sentences to bring them to life. What adjectives can you throw in there? Can you switch out certain words?”

The purpose of this lesson is to have the students pick a favorite poem of theirs and clean it up for the Poetry Slam! Dec. 3. The coaches work with students individually to help with the editing process.

The students learn that good works of poetry take time and many revisions. They also learn the importance of getting ready early for their performance.

The key to feeling comfortable for the Poetry Slam! is advanced preparation and knowing exactly what to say on stage. Eventually, once every student has perfected their poem, the class will combine their favorite lines for a group poem.

As I walk around the room, I ask the students which poem they want to work on for the Poetry Slam!. “I have no idea. I have so many!” says Ashley A., age 8. “Wow. You must write all the time!” I reply.

“I guess!” Ashley says, surprised at herself. “My mom bought me four new notebooks last week. One for my fashion design, one for my skate designs, one for my secrets, and one to write down everything she tells me that I should remember when I’m older.

Clearly, Ashley has no shortage of writing samples.

I move to another table and ask if anyone has a poem line polished enough, ready to share. To my surprise, hands shoot up immediately: Three willing participants right off the bat. One at a time, I help the kids pick their favorite line to read.

First up is Nancy R., age 10. “Paris…can you read mine and tell me what you think?” she asks. Nancy tends to be very quiet, but I can tell she is excited to read her poem; she just needs to make sure it’s safe to read it out loud. Delighted, I read her, “I AM” poem. “Nancy, this is great. I don’t know how we are going to pick just one line!” I tell her.

It takes Nancy a few tries to perfect reading the selected sentence without her notebook. Though she is shy, she is resilient. Nancy takes her time until she nails it and then signs off with an accomplished smile.

I walk back into the classroom only to find that word has spread I am taking volunteer readers. I suddenly have a long line of eager poets ready for their close-up.

“Can I read my whole poem?!” ask Keily, L., age 10, my next volunteer. My favorite thing about Keily is that she is always charged with zeal and energy. So when I explain that we only have time for one line, she looks disappointed. “How about we take one line and make it really animated? Get sassy with it,” I tell her. She loves this idea.

The first eight tries, Keily can’t make it through the line without laughing. But that’s what is so great about these students. Introverted like Nancy, or extroverted like Keily, they all genuinely enjoy writing and reading their poems.

After I wrap up my interviews, one student is getting ready to share her finished poem with the class. Betelihem G., age 10, takes the floor and Rosenberg even holds up the coveted classroom microphone — a paper towel roll.

After the performance, there are claps all around for Betelihem’s impressive gumption and courage. Damien A., age 8, is the first to raise his hand with an inquiry for Betelihem. “How did you write that so fast?” he asks, astonished.

Coach Nelson explains to the class that Betelihem has been working on this poem for a few weeks now.

“This poem didn’t take 20 minutes,” Nelson says. “It’s taken much more time and effort than that. It’s really quite impressive what Betelihem has done here. She has been taking time outside of poetry sessions to polish this poem. She has come to me with ideas and questions for a while now. Class, you have to understand that if you want your poem to be powerful, it takes time.”

There is a pause. The class lets the inspiration of Betelihem’s hard work and Nelson’s wisdom settle in. There’s just one month until the Poetry Slam!, and Brightwood’s journey to the main stage has only just begun.


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