Chaparral kids delve into poetry at two assemblies

The writer W.H. Auden famously said, “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.”

The students at Chaparral Elementary caught a bit of the fever in recent weeks as their school celebrated National Poetry Month with a bang. The highlight of the commemoration was held on Friday, April 17 with two assemblies, one for the primary-aged kids and one for the upper graders, in which the students shared their favorite poems with an audience of fellow pupils.

Chaparral parent Courtney Johnson Thomas has helped coordinate the school’s literary lollapalooza for the past few years. She set up a cozy nook in front of the school’s multipurpose room featuring an overstuffed chair, a bookshelf stocked with poetry books and a rug, and it was there that the microphone was stationed.

Principal Lisa Yamashita kicked things off by reading Mark Doty’s “Golden Retrievals,” a poem that peers into the guileless and in-the-moment mind of a beloved dog. Next, a pint-sized orator noted he selected Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “Happy Thought”—“The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings”—because it made him smile.

For the younger group, the focus was on silly poems by perennial favorites like Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. Second grader Berklee Antecol, for instance, read Mr. Silverstein’s “Hug of War”:

“I will not play at tug o’ war.

I’d rather play at hug o’ war,

Where everyone hugs, instead of tugs,

Where everyone giggles,  and rolls on the rug,

Where everyone kisses, and everyone grins,

And everyone cuddles, and everyone wins.”

It was perfect fare for an audience comprised mainly of children ages 5 to 9 as well as a plush poetry lover, the Chaparral Roadrunner mascot. Third grader Jack Warren, however, moved beyond the tongue-in-cheek to share a poem in which Emily Dickinson extolls the ability of poetry to uplift: “There is no Frigate like a book/To take us Lands away/Nor any Coursers like a Page/Of prancing Poetry.”

The latter presentation was music to the ears of Ms. Thomas, whose seventh grade son Angelo Thomas is an alumnus of Chaparral and whose third grade daughter Isabella Thomas currently attends the school. After all, about a decade ago, while living in Amherst, Massachusetts, she worked at the Emily Dickinson Museum, guiding tours of the poet’s home.

 

When Ms. Thomas volunteered to bring poetry to Chaparral, she had an ulterior motive beyond helping out with students. Ms. Thomas has spent much of her career working in educational publishing, writing and editing history texts for kids. Her educational background, however, is in British and American literature, subjects in which she holds a master’s degree.

“The truth is, I missed being involved with literature and poetry on a regular basis,” she said. 

Kelly Fisher, whose daughter Ava is in kindergarten, was amazed to see her little Roadrunner “stand in front of her peers with such poise,” uttering the words with an unwavering voice and making eye contact with the audience. The month-long celebration of the written word has been a family affair.

“Ava’s been memorizing a different poem once a week. I enjoy learning about the different authors,” Ms. Fisher said.

National Poetry Month is quickly becoming one of Ms. Yamashita’s favorite times of the year. “It’s generated excitement about literacy and arts around campus at a time when people feel overwhelmed getting ready for testing, and when the kids are tired from coming back after school break,” she said.

It’s been a world of words throughout the month, with kids undertaking “Poetry On the PA,” reading poetic confections during morning announcements. And next Thursday, April 30, poetry will take center stage once more as Chaparral kids observe National Poem in Your Pocket Day.

During the assembly, pockets came into play when second grader Mayo Ou read Judie Fordham’s “Pioneer Dolls” aloud, which focuses on the pocket handkerchiefs frontier girls shaped into baby form and played with in lieu of store-bought dolls. “This cute little doll loves to play or just sleep/She’ll brush away tears if ever you weep/So keep her close by—she’s easy to hold—/And pretend you’re a pioneer child of old.”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont.courier.com

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