The Sunroom: Poetry in Schools

It is Wednesday, December 7 and fourth graders from Poinciana Park Elementary in Liberty City gather in the school media center to read original poetry to an audience of teachers, parents and neighbors. Behind them are broadsides featuring more poems, beside which are black and white portraits of the poets. On a table is a well-designed chapbook featuring their best work from the past few months.

These students are celebrating the culmination of a ten-session poetry writing program facilitated by Laurel Nakanishi of The Sunroom. Now in its second year, The Sunroom provides creative writing instruction to Poinciana Park Elementary School and Orchard Villa Elementary. It’s a quiet community outreach project created by Ms. Nakanishi, as her students affectionately call her, and O, Miami, the oddball literary organization whose mission is to “deliver a poem to every single person in Miami-Dade County” during a monthlong, city-wide festival in April.

When I ask Ms. Nakanishi to comment on the value of poetry in the lives of her students, she says “I believe poetry instruction is important for the kids we work with because it allows them a creative outlet for their emotions and experiences. Many of our students are dealing with rough home lives and violence in their neighborhoods. The Sunroom classes give them a space during the school day to express themselves and feel proud of their work. Poetry also gives kids an opportunity to problem solve creatively and awards thinking outside the box.”

Besides the opportunity to perform their hard-won poetry to the community, the students go on a field trip to Everglades National Park. It’s a chance to immerse themselves in the natural world, an opportunity few until now have had. The poems they bus back to school reflect the freshness of the experience.

Take Antwon’s poem “The Everglades,” which ends:

The grass

is green as a snake.

The Everglades

Is big as a waterpark.

Few seasoned writers are uninhibited enough to capture the paradoxical clarity of that final simile. And few programs in Miami have done more to develop in children a love for writing and reading than The Sunroom. O, Miami and the handful of instructors who behind The Sunroom believe in the value of their students’ poetry so much they shout them—err, paint them—from rooftops.

This past April, O, Miami—in collaboration with local artist Randy Burman, MANA Wynwood and FIU Honors College—painted two poems by Sunroom students on rooftops that are within sight of the flight paths of Miami International Airport. The poems are still available for reading as you’re flying in or out of Miami. The video produced from this project has reached thousands on Facebook and was featured in The Washington Post.

The Sunroom is currently seeking to expand its reach to new underserved elementary schools. To do so, they not only need more financial support but poets and educators too. In addition to elementary school children, The Sunroom also partners with Exchange for Change to bring poetry workshops to detention centers. If you or anyone you know is interested in learning about the various way to support The Sunroom, visit omiami.org/sunroom-poetry/

We’d be remiss if we didn’t share some poetry:

My Name Is

My name is like a flower.

It is like the number ten.

It is like the tiny ant in the grass.

 

My name is a place

where everyone goes

to have fun. It is a dark

color on a computer,

My name is a color,

Violet.

Victoria Clark, Fourth Grade

 

Today

It sounds like an old ship sinking down

to the bottom of the ocean.

It smells like a lemon cake from the oven.

It tastes like green apples

from a fruit tree.

It feels like a cheetah’s fur

from the African safari.

It looks like a swirl of a tornado.

Lilmarion Ragin, Fourth Grade

 

WORDS BY: Marco Martinez is a pseudonym for a writer living in Miami.

 

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