Pockets, soccer just part of the poetry fun during National Poetry Month 

During a ninth-grade English class, I read the poem “Yo Soy Joaquin” by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales. It was the first moment of my life when I felt aware of myself outside myself — I realized that I was not only me, Richard, but also a Mexican-American.

That poem became part of my consciousness. It marked a new understanding for me of who I was. Moments like these are profound, especially for young people.

April is National Poetry Month. But wait, don’t yawn, I won’t drone on about metaphors and syntax. Instead, I’ll tell you about pockets and soccer and some of the incredible ways poetry comes alive in San Francisco’s public schools.

What’s in your pocket?

This Friday, Argonne Elementary School students will be stuffing their favorite poems into their pockets and reading them aloud to anyone who asks. They are celebrating National Poem in Your Pocket Day, which caps a month of activities for National Poetry Month. There will be impromptu readings of things like Shel Silverstein’s “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too,” and city officials, including Supervisor Eric Mar, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and Police Chief Greg Suhr, will stop by to read their favorites.

Poets on the soccer field

Imagine this: Two teams gather on the soccer field, they flip a coin and a player recites his or her poem. That’s right.

Students who take part in the after-school program America SCORES Bay Area do just that. These kids spend time after school playing around not just with a ball, but with words. In fact, our poet-athletes in 22 elementary schools stop playing soccer twice a week and write poetry.

Just a few weeks ago, students Luis Garcia of Cleveland Elementary and Angelika De Castro of Tenderloin Community School traveled to New York for the SCORES National Poetry Slam.

You can hear our poet-athletes this month on KALW (91.7 FM) at 3:19 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Or hear them at http://kalw.org/programs/radio-poets.

And in the classroom

Teacher Susan Sevilla at Roosevelt Middle School recently shared a favorite lesson of hers this year. She read aloud Sherman Alexie’s poem “Reservation Mathematics,” and her students made drawings to reflect on what they heard. She used questions to help them discuss the poem while they began to develop their own ideas about themes in the poem, and then they wrote essays about the topic.

Sevilla said she is excited that now, with the new Common Core State Standards, it’s possible for teachers to provide students with at least two days of activities on a reading selection, like a poem, then give them an entire class period to write, uninterrupted.

I can tell you there is nothing like phrases put together so perfectly that you’ll never think of the world the same way again.

Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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