While poetry is taught year-round and districtwide in Scarsdale Schools, National Poetry Month certainly puts the genre in the spotlight in April. Scarsdale Public Information Office Michelle Verna spent the month sharing student and staff work on social media.
“Poetry month has been such a fun project to curate and has created some great experiences,” she said.
Many of the schools and teachers set up web pages to share the work of the students, including Heathcote Elementary School, which held an Art & Poetry Festival where students in very grade shared self-portraits and poems.
In addition to individual works, the class of sixth grade English teacher Trent DeBerry wrote a collaborative poem, pivoting from his lesson plan to seize the opportunity for a new experience for his students to express what’s been going on with them during the COVID-19 pandemic. That idea, which led the class writing “The Masks we Wear,” was spurred by DeBerry’s own learning about Trauma-Informed Education.
“Sometimes we just really need to take the opportunity to slow down, to collaborate, to hear each other, to come together to understand what this experience is,” DeBerry told Verna for the district’s website. “To listen to the kids, to really understand what their fears have been, what made them anxious, joyful, what was inspiring, what was new, what they wouldn’t have learned about themselves otherwise, has been eye-opening. We are ALL teachers and learners in this moment.”
In Janie Fitzgerald’s eighth grade English class the first day of spring was celebrated by reading and discussing “Flowers” by John Travers Moore, a concrete poem that gets read from bottom to top, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost and two poems by A.E. Houseman.
“I challenged my students to watch for the first signs of spring and then to snap a picture to post on our padlet,” Fitzgerald said. “This allowed them to do some deep noticing of the natural world.”
Fitzgerald also took a break from the iambic pentameter and sonnet-laden “Romeo and Juliet” to work on novels in verse for her students’ next independent reading assignment. These hybrid storytelling works offer a new way to view two typically different styles. After introducing samples to the class and working on journal responses, small groups were sent to the school library to choose books to read.
“They have two carts and a display of the novel in verse books grouped into specific categories to facilitate my students’ search and signing out of books,” Fitzgerald said. “Over the weekend my students are supposed to browse the collection via the Destiny Discovery Novels in Verse collection.”
In addition, Fitzgerald shared a poem with her class that she had written in the beginning of the year when hybrid learning was underway called “Eighth Grade Pandemic Lessons,” another reminder why “teachers are definitely relieved to be teaching in our own rooms now,” she said.
Mark Winston, a veteran teacher of 24 years, focuses on poetry with his Quaker Ridge fifth-graders. “I have always done a large poetry study beginning in February and culminating in April,” he said. “I actually have some amazing fifth grade poetry from my class this year. The students’ poetry is pretty powerful and gives much insight into the journey this group of children have faced/experienced, since March 2020.”
That poetry runs the gamut of quatrains, cinquains, antonym and synonym diamantes, concrete, odes and limericks, and uses figurative language, such as alliteration, hyperbole, simile/metaphor, idiom, personification, and onomatopoeia. Winston said it culminates “with our strong emotion/mood free verse,” in addition to each student researching a poet “of their choosing.”
Fox Meadow fifth grade teacher Katherine Marshall even had a special virtual guest. “I always celebrate National Poetry Month by having my dad, former SHS English teacher, as a guest teacher,” she said. “We call this Poetry with Poppi.”
Paula Bautista said her Greenacres third graders read and perform poetry “throughout the year.”
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Dr. Edgar McIntosh, who also submitted a pandemic poem for inclusion on social media, was proud of the district’s effort to celebrate the art form.
“I always appreciate April and the opportunity to celebrate student writing and the outstanding and creative work of our students,” he said.