Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Poetry Month: Changing and Growing!

What is The Willows?
The teachers and staff helping the children grow.
What is The Willows?
A place where each face can be known.
What is The Willows?

A place where we share to be kind.
What is The Willows?
A place to educate the mind.
What is The Willows?
Ashlee Cline, '00, The 1997 Willows Poetry Anthology

The success of the first Poetry Month/Poetry Night ensured that it would become a Willows' tradition.

"Everyone had such a good time that first year," explains Lisa.  "We realized what we could do with so much creative freedom, and we wanted to build on it."

The Willows' Poetry Month evolved over the next few years as teachers added to and improved on the event.  Classes started to write and perform group poems connected to their thematic units.

On Poetry Nights, teachers and parents took the "coffeehouse" redecorating challenge to new heights transforming classrooms into welcoming performance spaces. Whether elegant, cozy, mysterious or wacky, all were in the spirit of adventure and creativity.

Teacher Brian Tousey remembers one of his favorite class presentations from an early Poetry Night, "My seventh grade class all dressed in matching white jumpsuits and goggles.  They all jogged in from the back of the multipurpose room in unison to the strains of Mr. Roboto by Styx," he recalls.  "We had a smoke machine going, and the kids performed a robotics-themed poem they had written.  It brought down the house."

One element of Poetry Month The Willows held on to, notes Lisa Rosenstein, is the tradition of bringing in outside poets to broaden the students' perspective on poetry.  Markhum Who was followed by Jack Grapes for three years, and in recent years Deb Studebaker has served as The Willows' poet-in-residence.

"One of my fondest memories of the Willows involves Jack Grapes, who came and taught my fourth grade class how to write good poetry," recalls Jeremy Fassler, '04.  "Most of what I know about poetry I learned from him.  He was a great teacher, and he got all of us in the class to write very heartfelt, emotional stuff."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Slammin' Since '95! We Celebrate Together: Poetry Night & Other Traditions

The children are the leaves that grow.

The teachers are the branches that help the leaves
The trunk is the house that guards them,
Safe and sound.

Like baby trees we are a bud,

growing every day.

With enough nutrients we will grow,
And be in full growth someday.

But like all willows,
We will keep growing and learning the ways 

                     -Jessie Shulman, '96,  The 1995 Willows Poetry Anthology

In a dim, cozy room hung with twinkling lanterns, the poet walks up to the stage.  Perching on a stool, she holds a paper in front of her.  Appreciative listeners nod while she reads her poem.  She acknowledges their claps and cheers with a bow before heading back to her seat.

Is it a poetry slam at a trendy coffeehouse in New York City?

No.  It's Poetry Night at The Willows!

1994-1995 was a year of "firsts," a year to establish the day-to-day life of the school, to set up routines -- and to establish traditions.

"When you start a new school," recalls Lisa Rosenstein, "you're able to start from scratch with everything.  That kind of creative freedom is incredibly exciting."

In January of 1995, teachers came together to celebrate The Willows' first month of poetry.  In every classroom, children read poetry, wrote poetry and performed poetry.  "Teachers didn't limit poetry to language arts periods during the day," Lisa says.  "Poetry infused everything we did -- we brought in music and art activities, social studies, even math and science.  We were such  a small school, and we had the luxury of flexibility."

That month, The Willows also welcomed guest poet Markhum Who as the school's first poet-in-residence.  He led activities with the 5th and 6th graders that challenged them to think about poetry in a new way.

"Our class loved him," remembers Willows' teacher and alum Greg Blum, '98, who was a 6th grader that year.  "Markhum was a gifted poet -- he was really passionate and inspiring."

At the end of the month, it seemed natural to want to celebrate with a school-wide gathering and so, the first Poetry Night was born.

Poetry Night wasn't just about celebrating poetry, remembers Founder and Board Member Mark Solomon -- it was also an opportunity to bring Willows' families together.  "From the onset, Lisa was insistent that the word "community" be a part of our school's name.  it was our mission to make sure that as The Willows evolved, we created a sense of community, holding events that brought families together was of paramount importance."

With this goal in mind, Lisa and the teachers structured the evening to unite families across age groups and grade levels.  There were no class presentations that first Poetry Night, recalls Lisa, but students did break up into small groups to share poems with each other and their families, in classrooms that had been redecorated as bohemian coffeehouses.

Greg Blum remembers that the transformation of the school that first night seemed almost magical.  "The teachers brought in couches, lava lamps and a throw rug so it was like a big, comfy coffeehouse.  There was also a set of bongos there, which I used when I recited one of my poems. I remember thinking that it was all pretty cool."

Richard Vishevsky, '03, who was in Kindergarten at the time, also recalls the excitement of sharing his work with his peers and his family.  "We illustrated our poems. Then on Poetry Night we read them and our parents got to look at our drawings.  I remember mine was about my struggle to learn how to tie my shoes."

"It was a great night," says Greg.  "It was very quiet and very fun."  Noting that the intimate setting provided a supportive environment for everyone to share their creative side, he adds, "We read our poems. We snapped for each other, and on one could do anything wrong, because it was poetry."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Flower Art from the First Day of School!

Here is a sampling of the art work that students created on the first day of school. This was an impromptu art opportunity because of the congratulatory bouquets delivered on opening day!  Anyone recognize their masterpiece?