Changing a perception can take a long time. Students and teachers, alike, have faced confrontations about going to school and working in Westmoreland County and have heard many untruths about the district for a long time. Even as these issues have been addressed for a number of years, the perception still is alive and wrong. No one is more aware of that than 8th grade Montross Middle School English teacher, Jacob Spears. When he first came to the area to teach, he had heard what a difficult district it was to teach in and heard “horror” stories about the community and schools. After working elsewhere in the Northern Neck, he decided to give the district a chance “despite all of the negativity I had heard about the county.” Thankfully, he found that his initial perception of Westmoreland County was wrong. “There is closeness to this community that is unlike others I’ve been connected to. While working here, I have continued to hear disparaging comments about our community and our students from those who know nothing about either. The kids hear it, too. They hear it when they leave the community to go shopping in other counties or when they show up for competitive events. After a while, they wonder if what others are saying is true. I wanted to change that, or at least try to change it.”
Enter Project Based Learning. On a recent Wednesday morning, Montross Town Manager and School Board member, Patricia Lewis, talked to an enraptured audience of 8th grade students who are participating in the first Poetry Quilt. Featuring the poems of Mr. Spear’s English classes, the young poets have been learning about the use of language and how to use their poetic voices to tell their stories. Mrs. Lewis talked to the students about her journey and how each event of her own life has given her a new perspective on addressing misconceptions and understanding right from wrong. She had the students read the “Optimist Creed” and then discussed how she used her dreams of youth to attain a college education and “plan” her life journey and how that journey has led her to a good life in Westmoreland County that includes her husband and two sons and how their journey continues.
Mrs. Lewis told the students that she changed perception by 1) embracing a personal style that was her own 2) practicing kindness every day 3) being confident in all her decisions and learning from her mistakes, and 4) remaining positive no matter what. She then told the students about a woman she admires, Oprah Winfrey, who overcame a horrific childhood and embraced positivity to become the famous person she is today. “It doesn’t matter where you come from,” is a mantra Ms. Winfrey uses frequently. You just have to learn empathy and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.”
Mrs. Lewis handed each student a copy of the “I Am from Poem.” This template has students filling out the blanks to create a final poem draft to share. The students dutifully embraced this exercise and started another exercise in writing.
Why poetry? MMS Reading Specialist, Mrs. Evans, had introduced Mr. Spears to a novel that she thought his students might enjoy, Bronx Masquerade, by Nikki Grimes. “I instantly loved the novel, which focused on kids in the Bronx of New York, finding their voice through poetry in their 10th grade classroom. We started a novel study in my classes to see if the kids would buy into poetry and the release that it can give. They bought in quickly.”
Why a Quilt?
For the full article, pick up the latest Westmoreland News 6/5/19
Montross Middle School poets with their poem squares.