7th graders considered this question as they sprawled across the grassy slope overlooking Paradise Pond on a hot April morning. Their senses were on high alert after tumbling down the hillside, threading dandelion chains, whistling through grass blades and dipping their fingers in the chilly pond. Students were receptive to the prompt of shifting their point of view: “We were asked first to write a poem of us observing nature. And second we were asked to write a poem of nature observing us.” Their poems are full of surprises and sensory details:
I am a fat, wild shrub
Beetles creep through my innards, tickling me.
I am a fat, wild shrub
I smell nothing but the pungent stench of pond-muck.
John F. Kennedy 7th Grade Field Trip to Smith College
The “ecocentric” writing activity was one segment of an interdisciplinary field trip to Smith College in which 7th graders from John F. Kennedy Middle School rotated through three activities. They took turns visiting the Museum, the Botanic Garden and Paradise Pond. JFK parents Margaret Babbott and Nancy Allen facilitated the poetry writing, inspired by the environmental literacy program River of Words.
Diana Ajjan, 7th grade English teacher, described the trip as a “fabulous integration across curriculum for social studies, science and English and a natural tie-in to River of Words.”
“Getting in touch with their inner lives and their senses”
Diana Ajjan has been teaching poetry to middle school students for years and she is “always amazed by what comes out of their hearts and minds.” The poems from Paradise Pond reflect her observation that when students are freed from academic writing conventions, “they get in touch with their inner lives and their senses.” Special Education teacher Monica observes that poetry empowers her students: “Special ed students have a talent or gift for poetry, different from other kinds of writing.” Both teachers agree “poetry is an important subject for us to teach in middle school and kids love it.”
Senses of Connection: “When you write poetry animals come out!”
Writing poetry at Paradise Pond offered students different ways of connecting with their surroundings. One girl wrote that she felt, “closer to the earth in this place/I can sense the history of here.” Another student concluded her poem, “I wish I could feel/the chilly water/fall over my hand once more.” Several students were amazed to discover “when you write poetry animals come out!” Cameo appearances from a beaver and a garter snake worked their way into poems: “The beaver weaving in and out of the water/ The snake gliding effortlessly about his kingdom.” The 7th grade poems blur the lines between nature and observer with a sense of receptivity distilled in the words of 7th grader Max: “It is me, But I have changed.”
The Dark Side
It is me,
But I have changed,
The ripples manipulate me,
The sunlight distorts me…
Locked in the liquid,
Whenever I look,
He will be there,
I will be there.