All That and a Bag of Poetry: Creative Writing with 5th Graders at Gulf Elementary

by Olga García Echeverría

From: La Bloga

Pic6Once a week, I venture south on the 110 towards San Pedro. My destination: Gulf Elementary School in Wilmington, California. My mission: creative writing workshops with 5th graders.

On the days I visit the 5th graders, I rise before the roosters crow. I sip on strong coffee in the shifting morning light. I pack energy snacks and a hearty lunch. It’s an hour-plus drive from my home to Wilmington. On some parts of the commute, traffic clears and I fly. On others, the highway’s arteries are clogged. I nudge forward like a slug, past downtown, the 10, the 105, the 405.

I know my exit is approaching when I spot the billowing white smoke of the oil refineries, a Wilmington trademark. These industrial chimneys coughing up smolder and fumes are hard on the eyes and lungs, but lately I’ve begun to envision the large pipes painted in rainbow colors, puffing out fat cumulus clouds. Soon it will rain poetry, I think. And as soon as I park my car and enter Gulf Elementary School, it does.

“Ms. Olga! Ms. Olga!” a preadolescent voice yells.

When I turn, a group of kids with wide sonrisas are waving their arms up into the sky as if they’re flagging down airplanes. In an instant, this boisterous morning saludo shakes off the lethargy of post-traffic-trauma that has settled on my body like a heavy winter coat. I feel lighter—dare I say younger?–via these kids’ enthusiasm. I wave back as if I were disco dancing. It’s gonna be another great day in Wilmington, y’all.

During the next 5 hours, I’ll meet with about 120 of these loud little people who smile a lot and ask such interesting off-topic questions…

“Is it true that if I drink coffee, I won’t grow?”
“Can you please bring us a Chinese calendar next week?”
“What’s your favorite taco?
“Do you believe in purple lamas?”

These are the brown, bilingual children of Wilmington, lovers of pizza, Cheetos, donuts, and tacos. They talk a lot and make their way through the day with a glazed look of wonder in their eyes. Do I believe in purple lamas? This could very well be my long-lost tribe.

I meet with five different classes during my visits at Gulf Elementary. I have about an hour with each group. 5th grade time, though, is a vortex. It’s a location, a colorful crowded room full of desks, chairs, books, posters, activities, and awesome teachers who master Silence Signals. The teachers I work with orchestrate silence with a hand, a countdown, a clap, a stare. I watch in awe. Without a Silence Signal in the 5th grade, I have learned, you have to project your voice like a football coach or an opera singer. Without a Silence Signal your words may get drowned out by the beautiful buzzing of bees. To be honest, I am a sucker for noisy classrooms. Art, after all, rattles and strums and stomps and sings. In my college classes, I pull teeth to get students to share opinions and interact; here with the 5th graders, the rambunctious classes are, in my opinion, signs of success.  (All this to say that I have not mastered the Silence Signal). Read Rest of Article Here

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