Bringing Stories Back to Life is a project exposing students at five Durham elementary schools to the art of storytelling and public performance. Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs supported the project, which has been wildly popular, with a Community Care Grant. The piece below was written by the project’s coordinator.
Through My Eyes: A Commentary by Rosemarie Gulla
To my great delight, the wonderful cacophony of enthusiastic students working out the poems for themselves has occurred universally. After the poems are “released” into the air a few times, the printed poems are distributed as we work with them more fully. That is when the students find the poems for themselves, and it is a major delight to hear what happens.
In a 5th grade classroom at Club Boulevard, a boy tried to NOT hand his poem paper back in to be collected. When I mentioned it to him, he wanted to be assured that he would be able to get this poem into his own hands for memorization.
At Carter Community School, 3rd graders started copying poems as fast as they could so they would have their own copies.
In a 2nd grade class at E.K. Powe Elementary, a student with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair misinterpreted my directions to watch my actions for the poem “Things” and say it silently in his own mind. I started moving through this poem as I usually do, and he very distinctively had all the inflections, rhythms and sheer happiness of reciting this poem in his “distorted” but intelligible speech. A classmate looked at me and said, “He is so happy with this poem. Doesn’t it just make you cry?”
First graders at Watts were part of their school’s poetry celebration at Baldwin just before Thanksgiving break, and they were clear and precise in their recitation of “Goodnight, Juma,” by Eloise Greenfield. They each had their part, and they were a huge success.
An interesting observation in Club Boulevard’s 4th grades came when we worked with the poem by Langston Hughes, “The Dream Keeper.” I showed a wish box as a prop from the fairy tale, On the Wings of the Swan. I spoke of Swedish tomtens as little dream creatures devised by that culture. The kids started to tell me they wanted to wish to be one year old again. They did not want to grow up. It was a common sentiment. Some of these kids had immature behaviors, and it seemed would love to revert to a more infantile state if they could have the chance to do so. They expressed a desire to cling to irresponsible states of life rather than embracing the tools of transitioning to a responsible status. By the third classroom presentation, it was becoming easier to understand that they were expressing the thought that life scared them a bit. Encouraging them to proceed with confidence in a world where they take responsibility for making things better became the way I asked them to consider things.
In all classrooms, I try to work with the notion of paying attention to details with words. I give them the benefit of what I had to notice when I was memorizing particular poems or passages. They are growing a repertoire of poetry, and I find it exciting.