Saturday, August 20, 2016

Jason, at Binkley Elementary School, Santa Rosa, CA, circa 1981

It was during the early 1980s when developmentally disabled kids were being mainstreamed into the public schools. Not because it seemed like a cool idea, but because we had a governor who decommissioned the state funded mental hospitals, and there were all these kids who were formerly institutionalized, suddenly foisted into the classroom.

Marilyn Stocks was a brilliant 5th grade teacher who was able to successfully integrate Jason, who had Downs Syndrome, into the classroom. He was a big lumbering hulk in an 8th grader's body, and I thought my God, how will I ever teach poetry to him? She said give him a job, he was the class pencil and paper monitor, and he also collected the poetry journals at the end of class. He was the best classroom helper ever. He never forgot, never missed a beat. She said, now take it a step further, have him write poetry too. And so I did.

So I tailored CPITS lessons so that he too could write, and write he did. (We took dictation too.) She said treat him just like another student. The magic began to happen was when he had a poem typed up. The class cheered him on. I try to type up eight to ten kid poems per workshop and then we revise them in class. So by the time I've seen the students five times, the entire class has had a poem typed up, 1.5 times. At the end, we made an anthology of student and Jason proudly read his poem. The class went wild.

Ten years later, I was giving a poetry reading in Santa Rosa, and this man got up to read at open mike, he was celebrating a new chapbook, with a handmade red cover. It was Jason, still writing his poetry a decade later.

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