At Pinckney Elementary School, a poem isn’t just a poem.
Since returning to her native Lawrence two years ago to helm the racially and economically diverse elementary school, Principal Kristi Hill has prioritized making Pinckney an environment where kids of any background can thrive.
Earlier this semester, Hill asked kids and coworkers one simple question: Where are you from? The project, adapted from a poem by George Ella Lyon, encourages kids to share their cultures, traditions and varied life experiences through a simple poem template titled “I am From.”
And the results, Hill said, exemplify the equity work being done every day at Pinckney.
“We talk so much about, ‘Well, how are we going to change things? How are we going to get things better (regarding equity) at Free State High School and Lawrence High School?’” Hill said. “It’s our job at the elementary level to start that.”
The “I am From” poems, she said, have been fun and silly and, at the same time, surprisingly revealing and intimate. Some students in their poems have touched on fairly weighty themes, among them the pain of losing family members, the anxiety of acclimating to a new town or school, and the complex experience of belonging to multiple cultures or nationalities.
“At the elementary level, I think it’s so important that we do activities like this, so that it just builds in them from a very young age that they appreciate and understand that everybody’s different,” Hill said.
Staff, and even a handful of parents, have taken part in the “I am From” project as well, Hill said. Cristalyn Mumaw, who teaches third grade at the school, said sharing the poems — with her students as well as with her coworkers during a staff meeting — has been “a really cool bonding experience” for everyone involved.
“As we were reading them, their humor and their personalities and, really, what was in their hearts came out,” Mumaw said of her students sharing their poems during class. “So, I got to see what really drove them, what excited them, what made them feel special. Some of the kids got emotional when they were hearing other kids’ poems, some of them giggled and were like, ‘Oh yeah, we do that, too!’”
For Mumaw and her colleagues, it’s about the “things that really unite us together,” said Carol Laskowski, who also teaches third grade at Pinckney.
Ryan Fowler, a third grader at the school, agrees.
“I liked learning about other students because it made me understand them better,” he said. “I also know that I can make friends with them easier, because we can get along more because I know more about them.”
Here, students from Mumaw’s and Laskowski’s classes share their favorite lines from their “I am From” poems. For more Pinckney “I am From” contributions, check out the “I am From” compilation video posted on the school’s homepage, www.usd497.org/Domain/15.
"I am From"
"I am from I love you and brush your teeth, from loud and kind people, Mapo tofu and homemade egg rolls." — Juliano Coleman
"I am from the trees and the creeks, and from the TV room and the couch, from mom's lasagna and spaghetti." — Tristan Walters
"I am from tree that is now a stump, my grandma's cookies with lemon zest. I am from a really cool mom who gives me chances." — Meselu Demelash
"I am from delicious homemade bread and yummy cookies and a Native American culture." — Juneau Giago
"I am from an island language, lazy Saturdays and the holy grail. From family game night and trees above." — Ryan Fowler
"I am from a giant back yard with big trees and going to my brother's concerts. I am from I love you and bye bye bye bye bye." — Ida Allen
"I am from Arizona, cactus, Navajo and riding horses, from black hair, happy family and rain." — Gabriel Chavez
"I am from the library, books, organic vegetables and planting flowers. I am from saving my brother and from Korea." — Alex Kim