I worked at a community college for 15 years. I taught Ged courses, and ABE reading, English, science, social studies, and US and IL constitution. Mostly I tried to help folks to improve their skills, but there were always tests. Many of the people who came through room number 210 needed to pass their GED to further their education or to apply for a dwindling number of factory jobs that recently started requiring a high school diploma or GED for hire.
During that time, I worked for a mighty little half-pint of a woman named, Donita. In my life, I’m not sure I’ve known a person more intent on using the full power of her position and time to help others. She worked tirelessly for the folks who needed our services. She listened to their stories and used those stories to implement the best strategies for individual learning.
And while our main goal was to get these folks through our program and onto the next best thing, she gave her instructors lots of leeway–if it worked, we had the go-ahead.
I’m a poet and writer. I could see no better way to boost reading and comprehension skills than to read poems together with the students. And so, with Donita’s blessing, that is what we did. She made sure each student had a poetry book-–Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry edited by Billy Collins.
Poetry 180 is the book form of Collins’ ambitious program during his tenure as Poet Laureate of the United States to make poetry accessible to everyone. The book features 180 poems–a poem for each day of the school year–to be read in high schools. Collins says the idea behind the project was to “assemble a generous selection of short, clear, contemporary poems which any listener could basically “get” on first hearing–poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate.”
Like I said, my boss, the mighty Donita, purchased these books for the students, and we read and read and read. Folks who never read poetry before, sat in circles and read the poems they liked to one another. It was magnificent. And their reading skills improved. I have always believed that a poem is a microcosm of a world, and if you truly enter that world everything expands. It is magical.
Today, I want to share a couple of lines from a poem I first read in Poetry 180, by Kaylin Haught. I encourage you to follow the link so you can read the rest of the poem, and then spend a little time on the website checking out other poems.
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic and she said yes
I am pleased to see that your God and my God are the same person. And that she is helping young people to enjoyed reading and poetry.
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A pretty good God she is!