Honoring Student Voices in the Library

Last year, I held the first Barrow Media Center Poetry Contest and was amazed by the response from students.  So many talented young writers entered their poetry into the contest that it was impossible to choose just two winners from each grade level.  Instead, multiple students were honored in a variety of categories.  One poem continues to stand out in my mind, and I copied it and held onto it for that very reason.

Hurricane Katrina

By David

One boy experienced a

bad moment in this state.  you could

hear yelling from everywhere, crying

from babies, shooting every five

seconds, police saying “stop”!

You could feel rain going into

your face like cats and dogs, wind

throwing down trees and light poles.

no electricity.

You see stealing, boats, buses,

bike, cars, tires,  you feel sharks

in the water.

no food, drowning, people passing

out.  you are waiting to be saved

at the Super Dome.

I can’t read that poem without getting chills down my spine.  I shared it with a group of educators this summer and we started a conversation about the importance of honoring student interests and voices as well as allowing students to write about the things that matter to them rather than assigning topics and requiring certain graphic organizers.  When David wrote this poem, he was very frustrated because he was supposed to be writing a poem about nature from a photograph that he took at school.  In my conferencing with him, I sensed his frustration at the graphic organizer in front of him and the topic he had to write about, so I flipped the organizer over and asked him to think about what mattered the most to him.

Because I know him so well from his media center visits, I know that he has a deep interest in hurricanes because of his experiences with Hurricane Katrina.  I suggested that he think about that.  His writing mood immediately changed and he proceeded to talk to me about everything he remembered about the storm.  While he talked, I made a list of his descriptions and handed them to him.  That was his organizer:  a brainstorm list.  With further conferences with his teacher, he crafted the poem above.

I’ve held onto that poem wondering if there was another way that his work could be honored, so I was so thrilled when our school was selected as the first stop of the Ashley Bryan Traveling Exhibit of Illustrated Africana Children’s Literature featuring the work of Shadra Strickland.  In the book A Place Where Hurricanes Happen written by Renee Watson and illustrated by Shadra Strickland, Watson shows the bond of 4 friends growing up in New Orleans and the stress and devastation that Hurricane Katrina put on their hometown and friendships.  The art exhibit on display in our media center through September 27 features 3 of Shadra’s illustrations from the book.  One depicts Adrienne and her Granny as they load into the car to head out of New Orleans.  Another shows the flooded streets of New Orleans with landmarks such as the Super Dome in the background.  Another features the joys of living in New Orleans and fixing jambalaya with family.  As I put the artwork on display, I thought, ‘This is the perfect spot for David’s poem’.  I pulled it out, rushed to his classroom to ask his permission, and had it on display by the end of the day for my first lesson using the exhibit.  It was so much fun to see the students flock to David’s poem at the end of the lesson when they toured the display.

This morning, David came up to the library to checkout books, but he also wanted to see his poem sitting on the shelf next to Shadra’s illustrations.  “She does really good work”, he said.  I could tell how proud he was of seeing his poem on display.  

I want to continue to seek opportunities for students to display their work in authentic, meaningful ways in the media center.  This seemed so simple and easy to do, but it meant the world to this student.

2 thoughts on “Honoring Student Voices in the Library

  1. I’m so honored to have read David’s work. Thank you for making this connection and for validating his voice through this shared experience. I hope he continues to write and explore his world through his work.

  2. […]  This awards banquet is always an inspiring event.  I was very honored to have David Richard, 5th grade student poet who has been featured on this blog, to do my introduction.  He did a fantastic job, and his words had me on an emotional roller […]

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