A poet from the Kennedy Center will help teachers and students find creative voice during a two-week stay in Lawrence schools.
The ring leader, as poet Sandy Lyne refers to him, opened a window.
Other children in the remedial English class would look to the ring leader for a wisecrack or for approval. If he said something wasn't cool, it wasn't.
The window he opened that day in 1983 was inward -- to the story behind the boy who often failed English. He wrote a poem about his mother, who died when he was in ninth grade. On her deathbed she left him the responsibility of caring for his siblings.
Other students then passed through the window, sharing their own experiences in verse.
"Life is a story for them, and they're in the story," Lyne said of schoolchildren like the ring leader. "That can be the problem. The story is pulling at them. `We're going to do math today,' and grandmother has been in the ground for eight days?"
What Lyne, 49, will bring to Lawrence classrooms in the next two weeks is the key to windows. Through his workshops, he teams with teachers to expose children to writing and their creative voice.
His stay is the result of one of 22 business-education partnerships with Lawrence schools. Mercantile Bank of Lawrence and the Lied Center teamed up to bring Lyne to the district for the next five years. He hails from the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. His poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares and others.
The experience with the boy in the southern Virginia classroom caused Lyne to stumble and then fall headlong into a career of teaching poetry to children.
He likes to dispel fears of rhyme and meter, instead giving students words to play with. Words become materials, he says, similar to watercolors and canvas in art. He asks them to examine their experience as children -- bullies, first love, first heart break.
In a world of screens -- television, computer, Nintendo -- the written word and its power are losing ground, he says. During a workshop at a rural school, a student responded "seagulls landing in a plowed field," to the question what's beautiful.
At a suburban school near the largest mall in Virginia, Lyne said, the responses were "My phone, the mall and money."