Poem unit taps into South-Western district's students' views of pandemic

ALAN FROMAN
afroman@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

When South-Western City Schools switched to remote learning after Ohio's school buildings were closed in March due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Kristi Gagliardi had to find a new way to complete the poetry unit she was planning for her students.

In a normal year, the fifth-grade language-arts teacher at Hayes Intermediate School introduces her students to poetry through a unit she calls "Survivor Island."

Students must complete assignments and challenges in order to keep a poet that has been assigned to their tribe on "Survivor Island."

"The students are in tribes, just like on the reality show 'Survivor,' " Gagliardi said. "I'll decorate my room to look like an island with palm trees, but since we were out of the classroom, I couldn't do that this year. But I wanted to have them engaged at least a little bit in poetry."

So Gagliardi decided to focus the unit on poems by Shel Silverstein that would appeal to children, including "Where the Sidewalk Ends," "Growing Down," "The Clock Man" and "Yesees and Noees."

"They're all poems where he gives some ideas about how we should live our lives," she said.

As a final project for the unit, Gagliardi asked students to write their own poems sharing a message about how they thought people should live their lives.

The varied styles of poems her students submitted didn't surprise her, she said.

"Some of them wrote very serious poems, and others took a more light-hearted approach," Gagliardi said.

Students wrote about the importance of being kind to others, about the need to live the best way you can or about being thankful for all they have.

What she found noteworthy was how many students chose to write poems about the experience of sheltering at home due to the pandemic, she said.

"It gave me an insight about how much this situation is affecting our students," Gagliardi said. "Some of the poems were so powerful. For some students, it's been a negative experience, but others have found some positives. For some, it's a mixture of both.

"The poems my students wrote are signs of how they felt leaving their school, classroom and friends, but also how they felt about getting to or being forced to spend time with their family," she said. "I'm so proud of all my students and how hard they worked on their poems, but the poems about being quarantined show strong emotions about what is going through the minds of 10- or 11-year-olds who are isolated from their friends, can't participate in activities and are scared."

Here are poems written by three of Gagliardi's students, with reflections the student writers had shared.

"Slow Down" by Kaiden White

In life everything is always moving so fast

We don't take time to make our memories last

It took a virus to get us all to slow down

And right now things seem peaceful in my Grove City town

Before this, I was always on the go, go, go

Things are different now, life is moving slow

I don't have any practices to attend or hours of homework to do

But I am learning a lot about what I value

Im enjoying all of this time I never felt like I had

I get to hang out with my sister, my mom, and my dad

After this virus, Im afraid things will turn back the same

And if you ask me, I think that's a shame

I know that everyone may not understand

I don't want to go back to life like it was beforehand

I want to spend time doing things that I love

I want to give thanks to the Lord up above

Life is a journey, that's something I know

And as for me, I want to keep my pace slow

For Kaiden, life under quarantine has been a positive experience.

"It's made me realize how nice it is just to be able to slow down a little bit," he said. "If you slow down your life, you have more time to enjoy it."

With so many activities canceled and classes being held online, there is less rushing around, Kaiden said.

"You get to spend more time with your family," he said.

"I'm hoping that even when we return to normal and go back to school, that I'll still be able to take things a little slower," Kaiden said.

"When The Quarantine Began" by Khloey Ellerbush

We were let out of school on Friday.

Sunny day, trying to figure out why.

43 days later we are still inside.

Basketball, Softball, a New Project we've all given a try.

Schoolwork, Artclass and Gym too.

Lots of facetime and texting can make you feel a little blue.

Missing friends and family.

No hugging standing 6-feet away.

Wondering when we will be able to play.

Riding bikes, Pulling weeds, And even chalking the driveway.

Baking cookies and trying new recipes.

Lots of parade birthdays.

Seems to be the new thing.

Having more movie nights, s'mores by the fire.

Looking up at the sky to see which star is higher.

Nintendo Switch, Xbox games and maybe a little fortnite.

Seems to make everything alright.

Getting my game fix on, Controllers, Headsets and all.

I Wish my senior friends could go to their senior ball.

"It was kind of weird being out of school every day," Khloey said. "You're just trying to figure out what was happening and wondering when we'd be able to get back.

"I've really missed school and my friends," she said.

When asked to write a poem about how people should live their lives, Khloey said, she decided she wanted to talk about how she's having to live her life under quarantine.

"There's a lot of things you get to do at home, but there's all the things you can't do because you can't really go anyplace," she said.

Although she plays football "around the yard" and shoots baskets, Khloey said, she's itching to get back on the softball field.

She pitches and plays first base for an United States Specialty Sports Association softball team, but hasn't been able to get out on the field since last season.

"I can't wait to be back together with my teammates," Khloey said.

"Quarantine" By Braxton Miller

Stuck inside with no where to go

I stand at the window to feel the sun's glow

The streets are empty not a car in sight

I might be safe inside but this doesn't feel right

Nowhere to go and nothing to do

We can only go out to get more food

Stay inside no school and no friends

I need to play and I need this to end.

Being in quarantine "has been hard because you can't see your family and friends as much," Braxton said.

He said he wanted his poem to capture how it felt to look out the window on a nice, sunny day and know he couldn't go out to play with his friends.

Remote learning has been a mixed bag, he said.

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