Pelham influenced by school’s own poet

Published 6:00 am Sunday, April 26, 2009

Most of us love poetry when it comes packaged in children’s books.

Our verse is delivered with artwork as we snuggle up against someone who loves us enough to read to us. So, how do kids lose that love of poetry?

In an article that New York Times, columnist Anna Quindlen wrote about older kids turning away from poetry, she said, “summer reading lists rarely include poetry, only stories.”

When I read her words, Pelham High School’s summer reading list didn’t have a single volume of poetry on it. If that remark didn’t hurt enough, consider this one by Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate and founder of the Poetry 180 movement. He decided to create a poetry Web site and specialized books of poetry for young people because many quit reading poetry in high school. Collins said he focused on high school because “it is the place where poetry goes to die.”

Collins was right. Entrenched in heavy literature and grammar, preparing for standardized tests and grad exams, I’d lost a lot of the delight of language — and then, I taught a poet. On the first day of school, when asked to reveal her talent, Jennifer Rogers responded simply, “My poetry.”

She was right. Jennifer wrote beautiful verse and prose, and she saw the world the way poets do. She shared her unique vision, not only in her writing, but also in her life. Jennifer knew people were more important than things, relationships more important than deadlines, and friendships more important than duties.

Jennifer was killed in a car accident on July 6, 2002 — a little more than a month after her 17th birthday. Her whimsical poet’s spirit remains with us. Pelham High is today a poet’s paradise with writing electives, a book club, a National English Honor Society chapter named “Much Ado about Literature,” poetry books on the summer reading list and English teachers who delight in language and teach with passion.

Jennifer’s family created a scholarship in her name that is awarded to a graduating Pelham senior each year. Jennifer’s mom is Sally Dumais, a teacher at Pelham’s Valley Intermediate School and my friend. We hope Jennifer’s scholarship is as permanent as her positive influence.

If you would like to make a donation to Jennifer Rogers’ scholarship fund, you can send a check payable to Pelham High School with Jennifer Rogers on the memo line. We will always be influenced by her spirit and we will always remember Jennifer’s name.