On Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 6:30 p.m., fifth and sixth graders from Angwin’s Howell Mountain Elementary School and sixth graders from Pacific Union College Elementary School will present artistic performances of original poetry to the backdrop of an exhibit of their own photography in Paulin Hall at Pacific Union College.
The joint project between the schools was created and facilitated by Beclee Wilson, former poet laureate of Napa County.
“Ms. Wilson provided a very helpful jumpstart lesson on poetry writing,” said Michael Luque, fifth and sixth grade teacher at HMES. “The students have begun crafting their poems and will have polished pieces at the event, all inspired by their own photos.”
The project began during summer 2017, when several area elementary teachers attended the Lucy Calkins professional development event on writing. Luque and Ronn Kakazu, sixth grade teacher at PUCE, were invited to participate in the pilot project with their students.
“We’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about different elements of poetry,” said Kakazu. “We’ve focused on imagery, tone, repetition, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and consonance. Beclee even came in and talked with the kids about how a poet reads poetry aloud, giving examples by reading her own poetry as well as works by other famous poets.”
Wilson left samples of work from Robert Louis Stevenson for the students to study.
The Studio on Main in Calistoga provided students with disposable cameras for the photography side of the project, and the Studio’s owner, Gene Ivester, visited the classes to give a brief photography lesson. Once the photos were taken, the Studio also developed the students’ photographs.
“The concept is that students could take pictures of anything that suggests their community: their school, home, yard, neighborhood, or the Angwin community,” said Luque. “Then the Studio developed the photos and selected what they considered to be each child’s three best pictures.”
Students had several weeks to snap photos of their community, including the weeks they were not in school due to the fires. Kakazu even took his class on a 4-mile photography hike in the college’s Back 40 to focus on nature shots. From their three best photos, each student chose one about which they would write poems for the presentation event.
Luque explains that the students made T-charts to list what they see in the picture and what each thing they notice makes them think or feel. This was in effort to help the students find language to use in their poetry and get them thinking through what they wanted to say about and with their photos.
“I don’t consider myself a good poet, but I enjoyed taking pictures and being able to write my own poem,” said Alejandro Vargas, PUCE sixth grader. “Having it put in a public display is awesome.”
“At the beginning it seemed kind of hard to make a whole poem,” said Eden Jones, HMES fifth grader. “But by the time I got to the middle of the project it was easier, because I could look at the picture right in front of me and make good rhymes.”
The inspiration for the project came from one Wilson observed in New England a few years ago. She was willing to make it happen, she just needed the funding.
“I was awarded a grant from the Art Council to do a project I had seen in the Farnworth Art museum in Maine,” Wilson said. “Students from about eight areas, some living on islands, integrated art of all kinds into all subjects. I feel the Napa Valley is a unique environment, and that our students can also express their lives beautifully through camera and pen.”
Wilson wanted to pilot the project in Angwin, with hopes of running something similar with St. Helena schools in the future.
“I want my students to gain an appreciation for poetry and understand its many uses and benefits,” said Kakazu. “As a form of expression, as an emotional release valve, as a way to preserve moments in time, as a way to connect with their Creator by forming something new out of the raw material of words. Ultimate success for this project would be students writing and reading poetry beyond their classrooms.”
Both Kakazu and Luque are excited for this first-time partnership between their schools, and hope it’s merely the starting point for many such opportunities in the future.
“It is so special for these two schools to do a collaboration like this,” said Wilson. “We want a strong representation from the Angwin and Napa Valley communities to come hear these students present their creativity — to present a piece of their souls. I’m very much looking forward to this event.”
Both Wilson and Jeremy Benson, current Napa County Poet Laureate, plan to be at the Jan. 24 event at PUC.
Admission to this event is free, and it is open to the public. For more information, please contact HMES at 707-965-2423 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact PUCE at 707-965-2459 or email@example.com. For a map of the PUC campus, including Paulin Hall, visit puc.edu/about-puc/campus-map.
Becky St. Clair is a resident of Angwin and an HMES parent.