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Educational Foundations Students and River Road 5th Graders Use Poetry to Explore "Where I'm From"

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I am from the piano playing filled rooms in the morning when I wake up.

From the house with the red door for good luck

I am from the California sunshine creating warmth in my home.

From the coast of San Francisco with the sea and the foam

 

I am from a loving family without myself includes four

And of course my two dogs whom we all adore.

 

I am from a hardworking mother who moved to the U.S. on her own

With no money in her pocket and not one loan.

Who worked three jobs to create a life

And never once complained about all her strife.

 

I am from the Philippines with the tan and dark skin

Which doesn’t always allow me to fit in.

I am a part of the judgment that comes with being a mixed race.

Which makes people question if I’m in the right space.

 

My family has worked hard to get where we are

And now it’s my turn, I know I’ll go far.

These are the words of UO Educational Foundations student Mary Farmar, read aloud across a small table to a shy 5th grader at River Road Elementary early in the spring.

Mary’s poetry recital was part of Education Studies instructor Jeanne Hall’s plan, designed to provide compelling evidence that supporting a child’s culture and growing identity is an essential practice in teaching and learning. Joining Mary on this day were 62 UO undergraduates in her Educational Foundations cohort, all discovering first-hand how poetry can be a powerful tool to create empathy and shared experiences in the classroom.

The UO students, all members of the Spring EDST 333 Learning, Teaching & Assessment II course taught by Jeanne Hall, wrote personal poems addressing the title prompt “Where I’m From.” They brought their poems to River Road Elementary, where they met one-on-one with 5th grade students who had the same assignment for their teachers, Alexis Screen and Jill Torres (a UOTeach alum).

This face-to-face poetry exchange was repeated three times, so every student was able to share their poem with several new friends.

The exchange of personal stories through poetry proved to be a powerful experience for everyone, as shy students generously shared their experiences and received acceptance and encouragement in return. UO student Ally McVey commented, “I’ve learned that seeing our differences, and the unique experiences which each of us have been through, helps us understand each other on another level. This is how we learn about the world, and appreciate that everyone’s differences are what make each person unique and amazing!”

Other students gained new insights about the frustrations felt by second-language learners. Educational Foundations junior Amanda Hill noted, “I realized that the self-conscious feeling I had when trying my hardest to communicate in Spanish, and still not being understood, was how that student must feel trying to communicate with his peers in English every day.”

Listening to the elementary students’ articulate and moving poems, watching Spanish-speaking students light up with pleasure when they were able to converse in their native language with UO partners, and overcoming shyness to connect with each other over shared experiences made for a memorable day. Following the poetry reading session, all 62 UO students joined their new elementary friends for soccer and ball games at recess, celebrating new insights about their own identities and the vital role educators have in the classroom as both teacher and learner.

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