Oak Grove School students perform their original verse at new Libertyville coffeehouse
The Perfect Sky
A splatter of deep blue in the yellowing sky
Swooping, soaring, flying high
Its last swoop finished
One last soar
And it dives down and is seen no more
-- Renee Sebastian
Poetry is far from dead for a diverse group of fifth-graders who used the retro environment of a quaint, new Libertyville establishment to make their poems come alive.
The idea for a student poetry jam at Birdy's Coffee House was sparked by Maria Luce, an English/language arts teacher for gifted and talented students at Oak Grove School, after she visited the cafe with her spouse soon after it opened.
The assignment would be to write poems about birds.
"I've always been a bird-nerd," said Luce, 57, "so I was drawn to this place. Seeing the walls were still blank, I immediately thought of my students, who are super creative and love to write. With the name, Birdy's, how wonderful."
She thought it would be a great place for them to display a poetry assignment.
Luce also loves to write poetry and enjoys passing her love of the art form on to her students, who began to learn about it in fourth grade. She taught them various forms of poetry, discussed intentional word choice, "power words" and imagery before giving them assignments.
She saw Birdy's as an ideal place to intertwine school projects with the community. She asked the owner, Maria Mandarino, if she might allow some of her students' poetry to decorate her walls. Mandarino loved the idea, but enhanced it. She proposed the students hold a poetry reading instead of just a display.
"Given that our learning standards include speaking skills," Luce said, "I thought this was an excellent way to also teach those necessary skills." With that, the poetry jam began to take shape.
The school PTO provided funding for matching T-shirts and Mandarino agreed to open her cafe during public hours. Luce created a book of the students' poetry, later donated to the restaurant, from which the students read.
Many of these 20 original student ideas and poems were very serious. Some were created in free verse, while others were lyrical, whimsical or written as haikus. Students who could not make it to the event had their poems read by one of their 16 presenting classmates.
One student, Libertyville resident Hamza Alsawaf, 10, said he didn't previously know much about poetry but now likes it and finds it very emotional.
"The assignment," Hamza said, "was to write a bird poem that was intriguing and had a lot of emotion." When he reviewed all the poems before this event, he was amazed at "the idea of each type of bird and how different their lives are."
Student Caitlin Greer, 10, of Libertyville, said she discovered she could capture feelings by using a lot of descriptive words.
Another student, Akshay Jaladi, 10, of Lake Bluff, said he and another student one day surprised their teacher with a sonnet they wrote. "She said it gave her chills." He added that he likes the fact "poetry has no rules and you can express yourself in any way you want."
Most of the students agreed they gained a greater appreciation of how they could express their feelings through poetry, rather than keeping them all inside. It made them feel better.
Hamza said he had never experienced anything like this event and liked the idea. He and the other students were a bit nervous before speaking, but especially liked the idea of snapping their fingers in approval, rather than applauding the readings.
Luce said the poetry topics captured bird species from owls and vultures to silly birds like chickens and penguins -- and everything in between. "All did a wonderful job and showed their bravery in reading all their poems" in public.