Free Street has been working with the entire 7th Grade of Peirce International School since October of 2010, for twenty-four weeks. Our program just ended this past Monday, May 16th with a reading of some of our work at the Women & Children First Bookstore on Clark Street, which was fantastic! In three classes, I’ve taught 82 students every week during the time they have Ms. Lawrenz’ English class. The first few weeks were full of nervousness and shyness, since Free Street starts every class with stretching your body and warming up your voice. Our first goal is to get everyone over their self-consciousness, so that we can truly learn to play with our own creativity, our own thoughts, our own voices.
All three of these classes have grown a lot during this year. We first found our way in to a place of concentration and stillness using a counting exercise that requires everyone to listen to the class with their eyes closed. We got ourselves over some of the shyness with an exercise that gradually asks for the participants to give more, 20% more at a time. We worked more and more together as a group – creating dialogues together, writing poems one line at a time, making metaphors concrete with our bodies. When the final weeks arrived and I went back to find some work we could share with an audience, I found all three classes had written a ton of funny, heart-felt, imaginative work.
We arranged a reading outside of class, knowing that not every student would be able to attend due to other commitments. The moments I was proudest of, the ones I wish I could have taped and brought to the reading, were during our next-to-last class. In that class, I passed out writing to everyone – some students had a piece they had written, some had a dialogue to share with a partner, some had writing with no one’s name on it. And each and every student read aloud to the class, without protest, and often with amazing expression. It was a long way from the first class where no one wanted to volunteer. On Monday at the bookstore, eleven amazingly brave students read from all of this work for an appreciative audience. And every single word had been written by the 7th grade of Peirce – they have found their own voices, and those voices are wonderful.
Elizabeth Downing, Teaching Artist