Positive Youth Development: Poetry in the Classroom and a Teen Poem about Skipping School

positive-youth-development_youth-in-classroom[The following post is reprinted with permission from the Pongo Teen Writing website, run by Richard Gold.

It consists of three poems from the students in Leslie Schicht’s class at Global Connections High School in SeaTac, Washington, and an email from Melissa Struyk, who interned with Ms. Schicht this year. Struyk and Schicht used the Pongo web site to teach a poetry unit for ninth graders, which resulted in the teachers deepening their knowledge of the students, and the students deepening their connections to one another.
I have republished it here because one of the poems the students voted to submit, "Skipping School," is particularly relevant for youth in the justice system, and because Pongo's writing exercises are well-suited not just for mainstream classrooms, but for working with youth in trouble with the law or struggling with drugs and alcohol. See Gold's post, "Poetry as Treatment for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System." -Ed.]
Here's the first of three poems the students voted to submit to a contest through Pongo Teen Writing:
Skipping School 
by JE 

I come to school and start 
I see the cops and I start 
The principal came out and started 
I was running so fast that I started 
I was so scared that I stopped 
I can do nothing to 
      Fix it.
But I still have to 
      Mix it.
Now look at me and tell me what you 
A young boy coming out of the streets trying to be something you can't 
This is me, and I'm not trying to be what you can't see.



Hello Richard. My name is Melissa Struyk, I took the Pongo workshop for teachers with you last spring. I have used your online website resources so many times in the last year, your site is just so wonderful! Thank you for the teaching support for in the classroom. 

I'm writing to you today because this past winter I was interning with a Language Arts class out at Global Connections High School in SeaTac, WA. While in this internship, my cooperating teacher Leslie Schicht and I used your site to do a two-week creative poetry writing unit with our 9th grade students. The demographics of Global Connections HS is highly diverse – 24% white, 23% black, 29% Hispanic, 23% Asian/Pacific Islander, 1% Native American. In the school, 23% of students are English Language learners. 

This poetry unit was extremely successful; we really got to know our students, and they also made deep connections with each other. We created an anthology (one poem submitted by each student), and the class took a vote on their three top poems ...

We began this poetry unit at the end of March. We had two weeks to cover the poetry writing, and our goal as a class was to create a class anthology, where each student would submit a piece of their best work. To start the unit, Leslie used your website to pull out a few poetry outlines, and she created a packet of different types of poems for students to look at. Then, each day, students were given a task of writing a poem based on a particular style or technique.
In the writing process, the most difficult part for students seemed to be getting started. When we introduced poetry to them, about half of the class moaned while the other half seemed excited or neutral. We used a few of your fill-in-the-blank poems the first few days to help get the kids started. This helped those who felt daunted or overwhelmed with writing a poem. It also helped students to see the different ways that a poem can be structured. Some students didn't want to use the fill-in-the-blank, but they did use the topic that was suggested - such as "Self-Portrait" and "Ten Reasons to Love Me." 

In addition to using your website, students were required to understand a list of poetry terms (simile, metaphor, imagery, stanzas, line breaks, etc.), and then they had to practice writing their own poems using some of these techniques. After the first week of poetry writing, we pushed them further by giving them challenges to include three or four of the elements of poetry and to write about experiences they've had in their own lives. We even spent one day going outside and finding inspiration outside of the classroom.
In the middle of the second week, students had to choose their favorite poem and then expand on it and re-write it. They had a conference with Leslie and had to defend their understanding and use of poetry terms. When they had perfected their poem, they had to edit, peer revise, and finally publish it in the class anthology. On the last day of the unit, we took a class vote (by ballot) and the top three poems were selected to enter [in a Pongo writing contest with a $50 prize] ...
On the last day we also had a writers circle set up, and we gave students time to read through the entire anthology. As a final assessment, each student read their poem out loud – while two different students commented on what they liked about that poem. It was a thought-provoking, enlightening day. Students said things like: "Wow, I didn't know that about you" and "Whoa, that's sad! I didn't know you live far away from your mom" and "You don't have any friends? That's so sad!" and "I feel the same way about..." It was encouraging to hear students be able to express their innermost fears, experiences, and triumphs. Especially when you take into consideration the reluctance of most 9th graders to talk this way...They were rock stars! 

It was clear that by the end of class, we all knew something new or even hidden about everyone in the room. Because of this, I think students felt more connected to each other, even if they weren't all aware of this on a conscious level. Overall, the unit was a total success! I would definitely teach this unit again, and I will, without a doubt, use Pongo Teen Writing to help introduce students to poetry and the healing effect it can have on a young person's – on anyone's – life. 

Here are [two more] poems that our class voted to submit: 

A Good Day?! 
by JB 

It used to be dark and grey,
But now something has to change.
It is going to be a good day. 

It's a difference for today,
Tomorrow will not be the same.
It used to be dark and grey. 

There is no reason to betray,
I do not want any of this fame.
It is going to be a good day. 

I am trying to forget those days,
I am not the one to blame.
It used to be dark and grey. 

I don't want my life on display,
I am just stopping some of this pain.
It is going to be a good day. 

Let's try and change our lives today,
This life is not just a game.
It used to be dark and grey.
It is going to be a good day.

The Old World 
by NC 

So you want to get to know me.
During my middle school year. 

You want to know what I see.
So I'll tell you Crystal clear. 

Imagine a tree lit on fire.
By one’s evil desire. 

Imagine having a friend.
Who betrays you in the end. 

Imagine getting your head slammed.
Into a street lain. 

By that friend you damned.
Imagine the pain. 

Imagine being isolated.
And always frustrated. 

So you want to know me.
You want to see what I see. 

Imagine losing hope in our society.
With all the poverty. 

Imagine being overwhelmed in hate.
Up to Grade 8. 

I covered up my anger with a disguise.
My mind was poisoned by the lies. 

Your thoughts must be swirled.
But this was my world. 

Imagine a stream of light shining through the darkness.
Cleansing my thoughts of all the rage. 

Now I'm harmless.
Because of the light’s change.

Photo: Michael Oh.

Updated: May 31 2011