Starside students create coffeehouse poetry night for family and friends
Poetry got cool last week for a group of De Soto third-graders.
Sara Dilday's classroom at Starside Elementary School morphed into a beatnik coffeehouse Thursday evening when students put on a poetry slam for family and friends. After weeks of writing their own poems, students read them amidst dim lights, groovy music and even a couple of recliners.
Caitlin Marte was one of around 20 students who performed after helping to transform her classroom into a swanky venue of self-expression.
"I thought it was really cool to have the dim lights and stuff," Caitlin said. "And we made our own beaded curtain."
Dilday's "coffeehouse" was made comfortable with beanbags, borrowed armchairs and cloth-draped tables. Although grown-up guests drank coffee, age-appropriate hot chocolate and cookies were on hand for young presenters.
Lois Partlow, who came to watch her granddaughter Mackenzie Williams, said the setup took her back a few years.
"In the 50s and 60s, we heard about New York, the coffeehouses and the beatniks," Partlow said. "When I walked in, I said 'This is like those coffeehouses.'"
Writing is difficult for many students, and Dilday said a little inspiration goes a long way. Poetry in particular, she said, doesn't have to be structured by convention.
"A lot of this was to get them excited about writing in a more imaginative way," Dilday said.
She added that the poetry night also provided a lesson in self-confidence.
"You don't get booed in this environment," Dilday said. "Everybody can do it and just be successful."
Dilday's students wrote their own poems -- free verse, haiku, limericks, acrostics and concrete poems -- in class. Each child read three or four of those, as well as a poem of their choice by a published author.
Volunteer musicians from the Americana Music Academy in Lawrence provided smooth background tunes and even accompanied readers like Caitlin, who chose to perform one of her original poems to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot."
At the students' request, laid-back finger snapping filled the room instead of traditional applause after each student read a poem.
Steve and Sheryll Schmidt were on hand to watch their son Nicholas. The couple said they liked the poetry night because it was small enough that every student got to star in the show.
"It's kind of fun just to see what they've done in a different type of setting, something small, intimate," Sheryll Schmidt said. "She (Dilday) makes it fun for them."
The mother noted another perk, too.
"I think it helps them feel more grown up," she said. "They kind of behave better then."