Saturday, December 9, 2006

Pueo Poetry Program

Today we hosted about sixty public school kids, sixth and seventh graders, for a poetry program. Twenty academy students had volunteered to serve as mentors for the younger students, who are part of the Pueo program run by Punahou Social Studies teachers Carl Ackerman and James Kakos. PUEO (which means "owl" in Hawaiian) stands for Partnership for Unlmited Educational Opportunity, and the mission of the program is to identify and attempt to encourage public school junior high school students who might otherwise not think of themselves as potential college students.

We set up the day so that the students participated in an initial warmup activity baed on an exercise suggested by our visiting speaker, Imai Kalahele, who shared with us his thoughts on composition, and read a poem entitled “Where I Live.” Program organizer Andrea Lum led the students through an exercise where they wrote down descriptions about their own neighborhoods.

We then had the Pueo students rotate in small groups through three half-hour workshop sessions led by the high school mentors: one for writing a memory poem, one for writing a poem based on close observation, and one for writing a poem which creates a picture. We had a booklet of model poems prepared, and asked the mentors to read the model poems with their groups, and then lead the students through a three part exercise that involved getting words on paper, selecting and sequencing some of those words, and then drafting a poem.

We closed off the morning by returning to Thurston chapel for a slam poetry presentation to the whole group by Mari Turk, one of our senior students. She explained how slam poetry competitions work, read us a slam poem of her own, and then led the students through a brainstorming exercise on the them of being thankful. Using the words which had been brainstormed into a word bank, the students wrote their own poems about what they were thankful for, and then volunteers stood up to read in front of the entire group.

After lunch, we asked each of the students to revise work done in the morning sessions, with help from the mentors. We also provided materials for them to do illustrations to accompany their poems in the anthology that we will be publishing.

The day ended at the chapel once again, with a formal reading by volunteer writers from each of the six small groups, after which everyone went over to Case Middle School for pupus and refreshments before heading out.

Writing is a curious, magical thing. This was a day in which Punahou students who have learned to enjoy and value writing gave a group of younger students the chance to get a taste of the satisfactions of thoughtful attention and the sharing of ideas and feelings through writing. I'm not always optimistic about trends in education, or in the world. But on this day, I was. I'm proud of all of them.

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