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Poetry Lives

Tuesday afternoons this April are special for the eleven children at Countryside Montessori attending Jennifer Rodgers' after-school poetry enrichment class. The attendees are 3 to 6-years-old.

They look forward to it, "with the enthusiasm you usually see associated with college football," Mrs. Rogers says. She's one of three primary teachers at Countryside, where children begin at 3 and stay with the same teacher and classmates through their kindergarten year. Her after-school poetry course draws students from all three primary classes.

The course is an introduction to the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson, and as Jennifer Rogers describes in her class write-up, Stevenson's poems have ". . . delighted children and enchanted those of us who remain young at heart. His words capture timeless themes of childhood; his simple, musical rhyme makes reading joyful and fun."

This week Mrs. Rogers reads, "A Good Play" about Tom and me building a ship on the stairs, "all made of the back-bedroom chairs." Then she serves apple cake, because Tom and me took, "an apple and a slice of cake," on their adventure. After the snack, with the help of a 5th grade boy and 2nd grade girl from Countryside's multi-age elementary class, the children make apple prints. It's a hallmark of the school, to have older children help younger ones, whether tying a shoe or pressing a cheery red-painted apple onto paper. The 2nd grade girl is herself a graduate of Mrs. Rogers' class and grins the entire time. The room is quiet, serious work is taking place, save for the occasional comment, "I ate an apple before," and "I love apples," and 'Look, Mrs. Rogers, you can see the veins."

There's time at the end for one more reading of the poem. "Let us also take, an apple and a slice of . . ." Mrs. Rogers pauses and lets the children fill in "cake." She asks if they remember the poet's name, "Robert . . ." she offers, and quickly one child says, "Frost." The child is from her class. "Yes, we read Robert Frost today," she explains to him. "This poet is Robert Louis Stevenson." She jokes with the children that if you want to be a poet, your first name should be Robert. There's a lively discussion about several of the children's names.

Poetry is a great love of this teacher and sharing it with young minds delights her. She is especially gratified that a few days after the first session, one young participant delivering fresh laundry to her classroom (such errands are an integral part of the school day) stopped to talk with her. The poem from that first session was "Escape at Bedtime" with the lines, "And high overhead and all moving about, there were thousands of millions of stars." The boy tells her that he and his parents every night read the poem together before bed. She's pleased. But what makes the news even more significant is that the boy and his family are Korean. English is not their native language. What a lovely testament to the universal language of poetry. Yes, on the corner of Pfingsten and Techny in Northbrook, poetry lives.

As seen in TribLocal.
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