By STEPHANIE BERNABA On November 18 after having completed a Creative Writing project for English teacher Evan Lancia, two Cranston High School West seniors and one junior were given once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to read their poetry on National
On November 18 after having completed a Creative Writing project for English teacher Evan Lancia, two Cranston High School West seniors and one junior were given once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to read their poetry on National Public Radio. West junior Alexandra Zannini, and seniors Rachel Paulhus and Ayia Tatari, read poems to podcast host Larry Jacobs about objects that encapsulate who they are as individuals.
The project was introduced by Fielding International, an educational design firm that has been working with the Cranston School Department on architectural projects at both Garden City Elementary School and Eden Park Elementary School. The firm helps create settings and opportunities that allow students to thrive in the educational environment. As part of that initiative, they are leading district-wide professional development to assist Cranston educators in incorporating project-based learning.
Jill Ackers, a consultant working with Lancia and other Cranston educators, attended the podcast. Lancia shared that Jill had brought this opportunity to him, and that his students, though nervous to read on a national stage, were both interested and eager to participate. The stated topic was Equity. Lancia explained that after an initial discussion with students, he expanded the project to include items significant in the students’ lives.
“Evan Lancia is a definite expert in his field as well as a risk-taker in really doing relevant work for his students and with his students,” Ackers said during the podcast, sharing that she felt highlighting West students’ work was a great fit for the platform.
“I had students choose an item that best represents them, then tell the story through that item,” Lancia said. “The kids did an excellent job showing me their identities through those items.”
Lancia shared that the poetry reading was filmed, and a mini documentary created by the school’s Media department, which allowed the students to expound a bit about their processes and what the experience meant to them.
Senior Ayia Tatari, of Syrian descent, authored a poem entitled, “The Cloth That Comes From The Threads of Civil War.” In the poem, she discusses her keffiyeh, an Arabic head covering, specifically how it represents a home to which she may never return.
“A decade ago is the last time I had been,” she wrote, “And today, I am more than 5,000 miles away, but my country is immortal through its treasuries derived from within.”
“I don’t remember reading a piece of work from someone whose first language was not English,” Tatari said, “or someone who comes from immigrant parents. But I’ve always had a mission of paving a path for people who are in the same boat as me, and this experience was something that has given me that extra push to do so.”
Alexandra Zannini, the only junior to participate in the reading, shared the poem “Dad” with her Creative Writing class first, and then on the national stage. The poem describes her relationship with her father, who passed when she was twelve, through Bunny Bunny, a stuffed animal special to them both.
The poem inspired tears, both inside class and during the podcast, and, as Mr. Lancia explained, with her mother as well. All who heard the poem were touched by the tenderness shared between Alexandra and her father.
“He comes to the rescue like a superhero, Turns the tears to a smile in the blink of an eye,” the poem read.
“She was so good,” Lancia said, “and Larry was very touched by her poem.”
Lancia’s support of his students was massive during this project, both behind the scenes and in within school community.
“I genuinely enjoyed the project, because with creative writing, you always form a deeper bond with the kids. They’re writing to you about very personal things, things they may not want to share with anybody,” Lancia said.
“Evan is a phenomenal teacher and is really thoughtful and intentional with his students,” Jill Ackers added.
The Creative Writing class, which is one semester, Lancia explained, covers poetry, short stories, screenwriting, and memoir. He says he really enjoys exploring diverse types of creative expression with his students.
The third poem, “Pennies from Heaven,” was presented by senior Rachel Paulhus. Paulhus described, through rhyme, her family’s insistence on searching for signs from heaven, a superstition she refused to acknowledge until her grandmother passed and she began seeing pennies herself.
“I see them in halls, I see them outside, I see them by my feet in the car. In bathrooms, on sidewalks, at my worst, at my end, when I’ve had enough of it all,” she wrote.
“I was taught to see realistically, see everything through. But every time I see that stupid penny, it takes my mind right back to you.”
Overall, the experience was a positive one for each student. Junior Eve Anthony, who heard her classmates’ poems both before and during the podcast, said, “They were really good, and meaningful to them.”
After the podcast, the link was shared throughout the school and inside the school community.
Lancia said after sharing the podcast, parents of his students reached out to via email to share positive feedback about the presentation.
Lancia says he hopes to have his students participate in a similar project in the future, stating that, through the podcast and specifically the project-based learning, which had blossomed from the initial idea of a poetry slam, is that the students, “can see their final work and how it matters, and how it gets out there in the world.”
The podcast is accessible through Apple Podcasts and at https://ace-ed.org/students-give-their-poetic-insights-on-equity/.
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