Edison Neighborhood

Washington Writers' Academy shows off its writing skills during Art Hop

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Edison series.

When fourth-graders at Washington Writers’ Academy were recently asked to compose poems about their Edison neighborhood, their words expressed love for their neighborhood and school.

Some mentioned mornings “as quiet as mice” and others mentioned people as “beautiful as a summer sunset.” Most students wrote about what they appreciated. 

That was certainly true for student Jayden Brigham who wrote his poem about what he liked best, which was all the noise he hears on the streets.

 “I like it when it’s noisy,” Jayden says. “Because it means kids are playing. It makes me feel good.” 

Jayden read his poem last Friday at his school during a Washington Square Art Hop in a Poetry Reading and Art Show sponsored by On the Ground Edison, Kalamazoo County Land Bank and the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, to an audience of teachers, community members, his principal, sister, a family friend, and even Channel 3 WWMT.

“I really liked this,” he says of the experience. “I would do it again.”

Jayden, a student in Aaron Mason’s fourth-grade class, took part in a project in which students wrote individual poems about the neighborhood, and then created drawings to accompany them. They chose a line from their own poems to put in a collaborative poem and participated in a collaborative drawing. 

“They were all proud of what they did,” says Amber Beeman, art teacher. “I told them to do their best work because this was going to be on display and they did.”

Washington Writers’ Academy Principal Lanisha Hannah-Spiller called the results “heartwarming.” 

“They were so genuine,” Hannah-Spiller says. “These kids are smart. They know the difference between real and fake. They wrote from the heart.”

Washington Writers’ Academy is currently transitioning to the Summer Slide Program as one of two schools in the district that will be implementing year-round school, so the administration and teaching staff have a lot on their plates. Despite that, they welcomed an opportunity for their students to have a chance to share who they are and how they feel about where they live.

“Neighborhood schools get a bad rap,” says Hannah-Spiller. “But location does not mean you are not good. We have children who are diamonds in the rough.”

Hannah-Spiller says she sees this poetry project as the first of many. “We are a writers’ academy, after all,” she says. “We hope to do more projects like this because it gave the students something real to focus on.” 

Jayden says he liked seeing his poem and drawing on the wall. “When he told me about this event, he was very nonchalant,” says Danica Cox, who accompanied Jayden. “But when he saw his poem on the wall, his eyes started watering.”

For Cox, who watched beaming as Jayden read his poem and then interviewed by a reporter from Channel 3, the event was memorable. “This is so cool that he finally got the spotlight on himself for something other than sports,” she says. “It means a lot that he can express himself and get attention for it, too.”

In addition to the poetry, which was created with the assistance of Dionna Roberts, Kalamazoo Public Schools District Literary Coach, and artwork, Karen Kempe, music teacher, was inspired to write a song about Edison. The song, recorded with the students singing it, played in the background during the reception.

“The kids in the school enjoy seeing their schoolmates’ work displayed on the window,” says Mason. “It gives them a sense of entitlement to know that their schoolmates were a part of something bigger than Washington Writers' Academy and to be recognized for it.”

A banner, donated by an Edison business, Consort Display Group, features the collaborative poem and is currently on display in the school office. “I am constantly seeing kids walk by and stop and read what their schoolmates wrote,” says Mason. “I like to look at the reactions they get when they read it. Priceless!

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.

The Place We Call Home—Our Neighborhood 
Written by: Mr. Mason’s Fourth-grade class
A place where people can live, sleep, work and have parties
A place where children go outside, ride their bikes, and play with their friends
 A place where teachers teach students  science, math, and reading
A place where children and play matters.
This is our neighborhood.
Our streets are quiet as mice in the mornings
We can go to Washington Square Library to check out our favorite books.
We love the way our neighbors can come together.
 We love the different families
We love how nice the teachers are at Washington Writers Academy, our school!
This is our neighborhood.
The people here are as beautiful as a summer sunset
Our neighbors remind us to be good
Our neighbors help in doing good things for others
Our neighbors say, “Hi!” whenever I’m outside playing ball.
This is our neighborhood.
 I wish that people knew that we go to a good school and it’s always busy
I wish our neighborhood had more people who could help
I wish that we could build new parks for families to visit

This is our neighborhood.
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