VMHS inspiring young poets

By Kathy Copeland / Community Columnist

In a semester-long program, the Shelby County Arts Council and the Shelby County School System partnered to introduce sixth graders to the craft of writing. On May 17, students in the sixth grade at Vincent Middle High School had the opportunity to show off their newly acquired skills by reading aloud their individually written poems from a now collectively bound book, entitled Prism.

Wendi Jernigan, mother of a student at Vincent Middle High School, serves punch at Vincent’s Writing Our Stories Book Signing Celebration. (FOR THE REPORTER/KATHY COPELAND)

Executive Director of the Alabama Writer’s Forum, Jeanie Thompson, described the book as a milestone in Alabama literary arts education. She penned her thoughts in the book’s Forward: “Through the world of creative writing, these students find their voices not only as poets, but as growing young citizens with bright futures.”

Bruce Andrews, executive director of the Shelby County Arts Council, made no secret of how this kind of program comes to fruition. Quoting his written message, he said: “Programs like this don’t just happen; they have to be founded, funded and fine-tuned. The Alabama Writer’s Forum, along with our public-school partners, couldn’t have done a better job of fine-tuning this program for the students involved. This program is indeed a jewel.”

Sixth graders build on their foundational English skills. They begin to read more complex texts, and they learn to analyze what they are reading. “It is a challenge to find ways to encourage them to go deeper,” said Jo Leigh Harlow, sixth grade teacher at Vincent.

Harlow, a seasoned teacher of 40 years and “Teacher of the Year” who is retiring, said, “I consider it an honor to be one of the teachers to have poet Daniel DeVaughn come into my class. He was able to teach both my students and me. Honestly, I learned poetry types I did not know.”

Daniel DeVaughn, the teaching writer, was recently nominated for the Best New Poets Anthology and his poems have appeared in The Nashville Review, Fogged Clarity, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Southern Humanities Review.

“Students loved coming to class and interacting with Mr. DeVaughn,” said Harlow. In an obvious statement of mutual respect, DeVaughn credited Harlow with the attentive engagement of her students: “Truly, I could not have done it, and the students probably would not have worked so very hard to realize the work you now hold, without her along the way.”

Every good book signing calls for celebration, and this one did not disappoint. Parents, students, teachers and invited guests all gathered in the library to pass books around for signature and enjoy refreshing punch and a piece of cake.

The students were all smiles as they signed the page with their personal submittal for the book.  And guests were thrilled with their accomplishments.

“The arts are not just entertaining but transformational and even redemptive,” Andrews said. “The Writing Our Stories program is all of the above.”

Sixth grader Madi Adair, authored “The Great Lake,” and said, “I had never thought about writing a poem, but now I love writing poems. You can write all your feelings down.”