Aaron Mason, fourth-grade teacher at Washington Writers’ Academy knows, when children speak, adults should listen.
For that reason and many others, Mason is proud to present poetry, artwork, and song performed by the students in his fourth- grade class about what their neighborhood means to them during the Washington Square Art Hop, June 1. The elementary magnet school is in the Edison neighborhood.
This special, multimedia showcase, sponsored by On The Ground Edison with support from the Kalamazoo Land Bank and the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo through the Washington Square Art Hop, grew out of a desire to understand the neighborhood through the eyes of children who live in it.
“The kids wrote about what they love about the neighborhood, and what they wish they could change about it,” says Mason, who is in his third year of teaching at Washington Writers' Academy (WWA). “Because this is about their neighborhood, it gives them that pride and ownership.”
With writing prompts offered by Dionna Roberts, Kalamazoo Public Schools District Literacy Coach, Mason’s fourth-grade students composed individual poems and then chose one line of each poem to contribute to a collaborative poem.
Then, under the direction of their art teacher, Amber Beeman, they created both individual works of art to pair with their poem and a combined piece to pair with the class poem.
“I basically asked the kids who wanted to be a part of this project, and they all raised their hands,” says Mason. “Once they got going, I could see how enthused they were. And their poems came out amazing.”
Mason says this project gave the students an opportunity to express themselves about something they really care about, the neighborhood in which they live and go to school.
“Our kids, when they start talking about their neighborhood, are not going to be all happy-go-lucky,” said Mason. “They really expressed themselves in these poems.”
To add to the project, Karen Kempe, music teacher, was inspired to compose a song about the Edison neighborhood that will be heard through the P.A. system at the start of the event. Mason says it promises to be a very special event.
“Kids are the portal, the gateway,” says Mason. “To see and hear what they’re seeing may open up the eyes of our community, that hey, we gotta’ do better for our kids.”
After the challenges that have beset Washington Writers’ Academy in the past few years, particularly being identified by the state as a failing school, which at one point threatened closure for the school that had been completely rebuilt just two years earlier, Mason and his colleagues are eager to display the capabilities and talents of the students.
“We haven’t had the best light on us recently,” said Mason. “With everything that’s been in the news, I would love for the city to come on out and see what our kids can do. This community knows what our kids have to offer and bring to the table, but this gives us the opportunity to show the whole city what we can do.”
Their song will be playing as Art Hop patrons enter the elementary school. Students will be reading from their work and displaying both their poems and artwork, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. during the Washington Square Art Hop on Friday, June 1 at Washington Writers’ Academy, 1919 Portage Street with parking on the Lane Boulevard side.
On The Ground staff will be present both on the square and at the school to share more about the neighborhood journalism program which has been covering the Edison neighborhood for the past two months. Please join us.
Theresa Coty O'Neil is a Kalamazoo area freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in many local publications and her short stories have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review and West Branch, among others. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Edison.
Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s “On the Ground Edison” series amplifies the voices of Edison Neighborhood residents. Over three months, Second Wave journalists will be embedded in the Edison Neighborhood to explore topics of importance to residents, business owners, and other members of the community. To reach the editor of this series, Theresa Coty-O’Neil, please email her here
or contact Second Wave managing editor Kathy Jennings here
The On the Ground program is made possible by funding from a coalition of funders found here.