PS 98 students learn poetry at special author visit

By Tom Momberg

The Douglaston School of Literature, PS 98Q, had a special visit last week from Dr. Lindamichelle Baron, who worked with children in a series of workshops to help them express themselves through poetry.

The former New York City public school teacher, writer, poet and founder of Harlin Jacque Publication caught the attention of students of all ages in a school assembly, empowering them to value their own ideas through a number of poems she had written when she was a teacher. Then Baron took individual third- and fourth-grade classes in workshops to encourage them to do some writing of their own.

She helped students in Amy Kuchynsky’s fourth-grade class to overcome the biggest challenge in writing and realize “the most harmful critic is the one inside yourself.”

Baron helped students knock down walls of insecurity to be able to freely express and share ideas, which gave several of them the means to find their inner poet.

Students were asked to leave judgments at the door and share ideas with each other.

“Giving these kids the means to write and express themselves is really about sharing my background, and incorporating all the things in my life that have influences on my poetry,” Baron said. “I feel like some of them really heard the poetry I wrote, and those that had never really written poetry found motivation to write from their own reflections.”

Every student was given a blank paper book in which to write their own poems. A few of them were truly inspired, completely filling their books with poems by the end of the week.

Matthew Doban said he is usually a very shy kid. But since the workshop was his first real exposure to poetry, he said he found it much easier to express himself, especially after he learned poems don’t necessarily have to rhyme.

“I like it, because you are really free to do whatever you want,” Matthew said. “There is no limit to what you can do — the only limit is your mind.”

Doban’s classmate, Maria Plioutas, said she loves to write and even keeps a diary. Poetry is helping the fourth grader to explore new avenues of self expression.

“I like writing, because I can write whatever I want. My parents always tell me what I can and can’t do, but they can’t tell me what to write,” Maria said.

Helena Darrett, also in Kuchynsky’s class, said coming up with ideas as a group helped her get over her own shyness in terms of sharing.

“I guess it actually makes it easier when you write with your friends,” Helena said. “My friends encouraged me to write about things I might not want to.”

Assistant Principal Diana Gautier said the school had not done much to incorporate poetry into the curriculum prior to Baron’s visit.

“The problem is that the kids very often feel stifled in their writing. Poetry is a tool to help students move past that, but we really don’t usually have the funds to provide special activities like this,” Gautier said.

Baron’s visit to PS 98Q was made possible using part of the funds allocated by the state Senate for Project BOOST, which provides extra school aid for programming like this one.

“These funds really helped us fill in the gaps,” Gautier said. “We’re a school of literature, so it is important for us to be able to have authors come in, but we can’t otherwise do these things.”

The school also had a visit from children’s and young adults’ author David Adler earlier in the school year.

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