American Graduate Day: Learning Poetry (And Life Skills) In Kennewick

Oct 12, 2017

NOTE: This week we’re featuring education stories from around the Northwest as part of the PBS special American Graduate Day airing Saturday, Oct. 14.

One program at Kamiakin High School in Kennewick teaches public speaking skills, increases vocabulary, and helps students process and express emotions.

Myanna Moody is a senior at Kamiakin High School in Kennewick. She recites the poem, “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy. She says it holds meaning to her because it portrays the arts. When she recites it, she feels a connection to the author and better connects with her emotions.

“The reason that I chose it is it's just something that spoke to me,” Moody says. “It is like the title says an ode to the arts and music and the power that human beings have with their creative aspects and in my life that’s something that is a big part of who I am.”

Moody is in the Poetry Out Loud program, part of AP English at Kamiakin. Approximately 20,000 Washington high school students participate in Poetry Out Loud. They choose a poem, memorize and recite it.

Dan Clark brought the program to Kamiakin High School before he retired. He taught poetry for years to his students and felt the program would enhance their learning because it has an extra element: local, regional and national competitions.

Clark says he was influenced by poet Robert Pinsky’s words.

“Robert Pinsky made a comment one time that the poem doesn’t exist on the page,” Clark says. “It exists in the voice. And when the opportunity for Poetry Out Loud came around that sounded good to me.”  

Students choose a poem from the Poetry Out Loud website and spend time dissecting every word, discussing what the author meant and forming their own interpretations of the work. Some go on to competition. All take away valuable lessons in speech and analyzing literature.

Teacher Joyce Donais incorporates poetry for reasons other than the appreciation of a poet's work.
Credit Northwest Public Television

English teacher Joyce Donais says Poetry Out Loud teaches speaking skills like how to slow down and enunciate – something not everyone does – but it also expands their minds.

“Sometimes I have kids in here from math and they have to have the right answer,” Donais says. “And so poetry can sometimes be difficult for them because it is their interpretation, their right answer.”

She says the poetry help with an emotional piece, so students can understand that a poem is an another student’s interpretation, which helps with acceptance and empathy.

Student Myanna Moody says poetry has helped her learn about emotions.

“Poetry is amazing in the fact that you can take something someone else wrote and put their time and emotion into and you can share it with others,” she says. “And by doing that, by interpreting someone else's emotions as your own, you are broadening your emotional conscious and it really expands your view of the human condition and of life itself.”

Teacher Dan Clark believes learning poetry builds literary understanding, and reciting poetry builds confidence.

“What students take from Poetry Out Loud that I’ve seen through the classroom is just an engagement with language," Clark says. “And the attention given to language, the nuances of language, just infuse the rest of the year.”

NOTE: The American Graduate Day special featuring Kamiakin High School’s Poetry Out Loud program airs Saturday, Oct. 14 on PBS stations. For more information on the broadcast and other stories of regional education successes, see Northwest Public Television’s American Graduate Day site.