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Poetry a slammin' success in Suquamish Elementary classroom

SUQUAMISH — Room A2 at Suquamish Elementary was converted to a café Thursday afternoon.

The desks were pushed together to make tables and covered with black cloths. Each “table” had a vase filled with red tulips or gerbera daisies.

A canvas painted with bricks and a plaque that read, “Café le Poem,” hung behind a stool, which rested on a small black platform.

Kristy Dressler’s fifth-grade students were hosting a poetry slam to wrap up their poetry unit.

“It was awesome. It was fun. I’m happy our class did it,” said Debra Hill, poet and slam participant who’s learned that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. “It was fun being up there and hearing everybody else’s poetry.”

The students began learning the art of poetry two months before the slam. The unit kicked off with a brainstorming session to determine what poetry is so the myths — boys don’t write it, it always has to rhyme and Shel Silverstein is the only poet around — could be laid to rest.

“One boy asked, ‘am I going to have to write deep stuff?” Dressler said.

Next came creating a heart map so the young poets could learn about themselves and what they care about to be more insightful writers.

The students completed 10 to 15 assigned poems and a plethora of free write creations. They were now starting to enjoy the writing process.

“They got excited,” Dressler said. “They love being told they have a choice of what to write about.”

She said one girl wrote more than 30 poems for her portfolio.

But as show time drew near nerves kicked in, especially since they’d have to speak into a microphone in front of a crowded room.

So they did an activity.

“We passed the mic around and I made them say their name,” Dressler said.

It apparently worked because as the students were setting up the room they began to ask if they could read more than one poem, maybe two or three.

“The biggest change was that writers of all levels regained a sense of confidence, not only to write, but the confidence to share,” Dressler said. “They feel successful and they have fun.”

Dressler said she does the slam, which is the highlight of the year, because even the most reluctant writer can be successful at poetry. And it allows the students to find their own voice and put together all the things they’ve learned about writing — imagery, emotion, rhythm and voice.

On Thursday the students brought the house down with their creative offerings. They dressed for the occasion, as the girls wore skirts and the boys wore button-down shirts and collars. There were even a few ties. And they did in fact read more than one poem.

There were poems about the realities of a fifth-graders day, walking on the beach, taking the WASL, thoughts by the pond, loneliness, fishing, seasons and sunsets.

Debra’s mother, also Debra Hill, was in awe at the students’ writings. She said it was hard to believe they were only 10 and 11 years old.

“I can’t believe the kids came up with all they did,” Hill said. “They did a really good job. They made it look easy actually.”

Poetry slam attendees were asked to fill out comment cards, which Dressler read to the students on Friday morning.

Dressler said they loved hearing the feedback, especially what award-winning children’s author Derek Munson wrote. Munson was at the slam, as he was giving a presentation at Suquamish later that evening.

Dressler said Munson wrote that each student’s personality was reflected in their poetry and they were very inspirational for fifth-graders.

“The kids were asking for copies of it,” she said.

Through the course of the unit the students learned they can start and finish a poem and feel good about their creations. They gained the confidence to stand in front of a room of people and share their emotions and thoughts.

“They are much more open-minded with writing,” Dressler said. “The thing I like most about poetry is getting to hear the voices of my students in a different way.”

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