Poet Alan Britt asks 20 third-graders at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School to feel the Spanish guitar music of Ottmar Liebert spilling from a small stereo, so they can describe it using their five senses and figures of speech.
As the first song, "Barcelona Nights," begins, the children
express their feelings by dancing, clapping and moving to the beat. Britt smiles as a conga line forms, the students parading between groups of desks while their teacher, Marion Quickley Johnson, claps in time.
When the second song on the CD plays, the students spontaneously return to their desks to write their descriptions of the music, comparing it to ice cream, to candy and lemons.
Jasmine Harrison, 8, who says she wants a dog, writes in cursive, "It feels like a dog's sleek fur."
Her new-found ability to explain the music by comparison was the goal of Britt's presentation, part of a weeklong My Word writing and literary arts workshop held recently at the Baltimore public school.
My Word, in its eighth year, is designed to "focus on the value of writing in everything, not just as a career, but in terms of communication and thinking clearly," said Gary Wilson, workshop organizer and co-director of the school's Write Place writing center, which helps Roland Park teachers employ writing techniques in their classes.
With more than two dozen local authors, poets and writing professionals -- each paid a small stipend -- the workshops offer about 300 middle school students the chance to learn about creative writing, fiction, poetry, the business of writing, and finding news.
The best work of students taking part in the seminars is collected in an annual anthology, printed by the local Williams & Wilkins publishing company in partnership with the school. The bulk of the 600 copies goes to participants, and some are distributed to parents of prospective students, Wilson said.
The success of the workshops, scheduled so students avoid missing core courses such as English, math and science, has led to more emphasis on creative writing throughout the curriculum. For the past three years, all Roland Park teachers have required a graded writing component in their classes.
That cross-curricular writing emphasis has paid off with improved results on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program test and functional tests, said Roland Park Principal Mariale A. Hardiman. Roland Park eighth-graders' scores on the functional writing test have improved from 42 percent passing in 1993 to 81 percent in 1997.
"We've found a way to make writing fun and enjoyable, and we're finding that we have wonderful writers here at Roland Park," Hardiman said. "This is really a unique program."
As Spanish guitar music inspired poetry on one floor, Amy Sweet, art director for Williams & Wilkins, a division of Waverly Press, and graphic artist Chris Jones were teaching a dozen students how to design a cover page for the anthology.
Over the course of a week, about 1,000 of the 1,350 students in the elementary and middle school will have taken part in a workshop or class presentation.
"I think the combination of outsiders coming in and sharing their lives and what writing means to them and the students' interest in learning makes this a truly valuable experience for everyone," said Wilson, a poet whose two sons, ages 19 and 16, attended the school. "I think it's something special that these kids won't forget."
Pub Date: 4/05/98