WEST ORANGE, NJ -Back by popular request of students and faculty, NJ illustrator/author Judith McLaughlin spent April 24 at Pleasantdale School helping students to celebrate the school’s third annual “Poem in Your Pocket Day.”
Each student sported a poem in his or her pocket while attending one of McLaughlin’s three assemblies. Students surprised McLaughlin by reciting her “Peppers” tongue twister poem that they had been practicing for the occasion. McLaughlin, in turn, delighted the students by reciting a new tongue twister from her upcoming sequel to “Poems on Fruits and Odes to Veggies.”
Asked how she felt about returning to Pleasantdale School for another “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” McLaughlin replied that although her April “Poetry Month” calendar always is booked with school visits, she loves coming to Pleasantdale School for ‘Poem in Your Pocket Day’ because across the grades, the students are so enthusiastic about helping brainstorm, compose, and share a group poem.
After presenting her poems, it was McLaughlin’s turn to be the audience for student-poets. McLaughlin was especially moved by the reasons given by more than fifty students, grades kindergarten through grade five, for wanting to sacrifice their recess to share a poem with her. “It is a humbling privilege to have youngsters say that my visit last year inspired them, and that they have written their first poems for me.”
One of the teachers gave McLaughlin high marks for instilling some usually shy students with the confidence to risk reciting poems in public as long as McLaughlin was in the audience. “It doesn’t get any better than helping students stretch their potential.”
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” one fifth grader confided before reciting her poem. “I love this poem and I think she will enjoy this poem, too.”
Giving each student-poet her full attention and insightful feedback, McLaughlin, who has heard many students’ poems during author visits throughout the years around the state, commented that there were many firsts among the poems the Pleasantdale students shared. Notable among them was an entertaining “two-voice” poem performed by a fourth grader and her proud mother, a moving poem recited in Bengali by a talented fifth grader, a joyful poem played on piano by an outgoing first grader, and an original thoughtful poem, composed and recited by two sensitive second graders.
“Make no mistake,” one teacher commented following the recess poem sessions, “Ms. McLaughlin’s impact on our students’ relationship with poetry has been huge since her visit last year. Once again, Ms. McLaughlin filled our poetry buckets, and the children, in turn, have reciprocated—they have filled hers.”
Noting that April 24 was National Poem in Your Pocket Day, Principal Dr. Joanne Pollara observed, “In addition to the wonderful literacy experience our Pleasantdale School students enjoyed in our building, their experience was magnified knowing that they were partaking in something larger than themselves. They were experiencing something in common with students throughout the country. There is something very powerful in that connection.
We are very grateful to everyone—parents, students, and faculty and staff who supported our Fall bookfair. It is the proceeds from that event that enables us to support literacy enrichment programs such as the Poem in Your Pocket Day author visit. Thank you! And thank you to all the teachers who worked so hard with their students composing original poems—acrostic, shape, haiku, diamante, to name just a few—that beautifully adorn the halls of our school. Thank you!