As the second week of October rolled in, the weather began to cool, but the fifth-grade classrooms at Perry Harrison were warm and snug. Visiting artist-in-residence Poet Phillip Shabazz strolled in and boomed, “Good morning!” With that, students perked up, and they began . . .
A Poetic Adventure Begins
The theme of the week was all about unleashing kids’ creativity. Cozy lighting, soft music, and scents of fall enhanced students’ comfort, and the classrooms brimmed with anticipation. Shabazz said, “Poetry is a beautiful art form…it is a powerful tool for self-expression and self-discovery.”
Students paged through Shabazz’s handcrafted poetry guide, which included word banks to spark ideas, a different form of poetry on every page, and plenty of space to write.
Shabazz kicked off workshop time by reciting his own poetry–as well as poems by writers like Tupac Shakur and Shel Silverstein. Students jotted down notes with Shabazz’s guidance and began brainstorming their own poetic masterpieces.
Poetry as a Path to Healing + Belonging
On Day 2, one student was so pumped up that he met Shabazz at the door with a poetry book from the library as a gift. That joy set the tone for the week.
“Every poem is its own little journey,” Shabazz explained. He wrote that sentence on the board and instructed students to copy it down. Students learned how to write various forms of poetry, including lunes, list poems, and odes.
Teachers helped guide students alongside Shabazz, urging them to follow through with their poetic ideas.
“One student was able to write a poem about a grandma that had passed away recently that was very special to him,” observed fifth grade teacher, Ms. Hamilton. “This allowed him to work through some of his emotions through writing the poem.”
At the end of each workshop, several students shared their work. Their poems were filled with topics like money, college teams, sports cars, family members, and horses. These topics were woven in with vulnerable mentions of their triumphs and their insecurities–and, of course, plenty of giggles.
Shabazz encouraged every student to speak up and not hide behind their papers while sharing their work, helping them express themselves clearly for their audience.
“Hands up! Let’s give it up for…” Shabazz announced each student before they read their poetry. The grinning crowd of peers repeated the name of the poet sharing and made some encouraging noise.
Kids read their poems aloud and got feedback, when needed, from the poetry maestro himself. Some students needed a bit more encouragement to keep going. “Say it. Speak up!” Shabazz pushed. Students found their voices beside Shabazz.
In just one week, a tight-knit community of young poets, who not only took their writing seriously but also celebrated each other’s work emerged. It wasn’t just about writing; it was about building a supportive and artistic family. “We grew closer as a class,” said fifth grade teacher, Ms. Lloyd.
The Grand Finale: Poetry Slam
The workshops were filled with discovery, vulnerability, and a whole lot of shared creativity. The week-long journey hit its pinnacle on Day 5 with the much-anticipated Poetry Slam performance.
Students took center stage at the front of the classroom, sharing their carefully crafted poems with their peers. But what made this event extra special was the presence of some proud parents who came to support their young poets.
One mother was brought to tears when her daughter shared a poem dedicated to her. “It’s all a mother could ask for,” she said, hugging her daughter.
One-by-one, students came to the stage. “This is so cool! I am so impressed,” one parent exclaimed.
Belonging was as vital on Poetry Slam day as it was throughout the week. Our bilingual Arts for Resilient Kids Program Director, Jessica Rigsbee, worked with a Spanish-speaking student to craft two acrostic poems. On Poetry Slam day, the student shared one of the poems about her mother–the fifth-grader speaking in Spanish, and Jessica providing the English translation for the class.
The Poetry Slam concluded with an awards ceremony for each class, where first, second, and third place prizes were awarded, alongside honorable mentions and the Poet’s and Teacher’s picks.
The teachers and Shabazz had the tough job of deciding, given the immense talent on display. Thankfully, scoring rubrics helped them make the decisions.
“Wow! My girls are typically so shy!” shared one mother, clapping as one of her daughters took home the first prize for the Poetry Slam, after sharing a moving poem about environmental activism.
“Shabazz was wonderful with our fifth-grade group! It was wonderful to see them writing with enthusiasm, sharing, and cheering each other on,” said Ms. Breedlove, Principal of Perry Harrison Elementary.
When asked about how the residency went, one student summed it up this way: “I don’t think it could be better.”
This residency was sponsored by the Harrison Family Trust. It is part of the Chatham Arts Council’s Artists-in-Schools Initiative.
Arts for Resilient Kids programming is made possible by partnerships with Chatham County Schools, Chatham County, the North Carolina Arts Council, and many individual, foundation, and business donors. If you feel inspired to help us educate kids through the arts, click here to donate.