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Poetry builds skills, self-confidence in RPS 205

Jefferson seniors Ana Plankenhorn (left) and Haifa Ali will compete in Poetry Out Loud.

Jefferson seniors Ana Plankenhorn (left) and Haifa Ali will compete in Poetry Out Loud.

Poetry helps Haifa Ali organize her thoughts and form opinions.

The Jefferson High School senior tried prose but found she connected with poetry. “I’ve been writing poetry so long,” Ali said. “It really helps me say what I want to say. Other than that, I am really quiet. Writing it down helps.”

Poetry’s payoff is not just personal. Reciting poetry in particular helps students read for comprehension and adapt their speech to a different context or task, according to Carrie Mueller, dean of Secondary Language Arts and World Languages for the Rockford Public Schools.

Those skills help meet some of the Common Core State Standards for English-Language Arts, Mueller said.

Doug McArthur, an English teacher at Jefferson, says there’s a less measurable value in poetry: helping students find their voice. Poetry is not always lovely.

“Poetry can be ugly,” he said. “Maybe that moment is ugly… (People) get so focused on finding this deep moral meaning, or meaning of life in these words, and sometimes it’s just, ‘I was feeling depressed and I needed to talk about it.’ There’s still value there.”

McArthur has encouraged his students to participate in the Poetry Out Loud competition, going on now. Created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, the contest helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about literary history.

Haifa Ali and Ana Plankenhorn, another senior at Jefferson, are competing this month in the contest at the school level. Plankenhorn admits she was attracted to poetry recitation at first because she liked the attention. Then she found the process of decoding poetry to be helpful in understanding other texts. It also made her more sympathetic.

“Poetry is a great way to open people’s eyes to whatever someone else is going through because it’s captivating,” Plankenhorn said. “I learned in my English class that poetry is meant to slow life down rather than speed it up, as stories often do. And I think that is really powerful.”

Plankenhorn has reached the state level of Poetry Out Loud the last two years.

McArthur said the competition is tough and unforgiving—students are scored on their comfort on stage, voice and articulation and evidence they really “get” their poem.

“It’s not about putting your own spin on their poems. It’s about trying to find out what their spin was. That’s where the struggle often comes,” McArthur said.

Ali wants to be a pediatric nurse and sees poetry as a lifetime method for de-stressing. She’s not nervous about competing. “Once I get up there and I start, you forget about it. It’s worth it.”

To read one of the poems Haifa Ali will recite, “If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar, click here.

Mary Kaull is strategic communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Click here to subscribe to this blog. Also, please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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