Two years ago, Adrenna Hernandez and her fourth-grade classmates at Dean L. Shively Middle School in South El Monte were "very, very behind," she admitted. They toiled with computer reading programs and struggled to write sentences worthy of the first grade.
But now, Adrenna and other fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in a remedial reading and writing program at Shively are the proud authors of a 52-page compendium of colorful and telling poems. "We don't want any more first-grade sentences," said Azarel Moreno, 9. "We want good, fourth-grade sentences."
Those good sentences are there, speaking for themselves. The words convey childish images of ice cream cones and chocolate cake and provide an innocent view of the most human of emotions.
"I am sand that everyone steps on and leaves footprints on," Scott Carns, 10, wrote in a self-disparaging, six-verse poem. "I am a puzzle that nobody buys or opens to see what is in it."
Thin and dusty-haired, Scott said shyly that he spent a day or so mulling over and composing his poem. "If you're sad, you think about things like this to say," he explained. "I just thought of them."
Scott said he did not intend his work to evoke sadness. But Mary Paiz, the school's principal, said several people who saw the poem on display in the school's office had tears in their eyes after reading it.
Other poems are also meaningful, but on different levels.
"Love is a waterfall refreshing my face on a hot day," wrote sixth-grader Luis Vogel. "Love is Chinese food taking a shower with soy sauce."
Ebenezer Arroyo saw himself as "a wolf protecting his territory."
"I am an 'A' waiting to get in a grade book," he wrote. "I am a brain that won't think."
Each page in the handsome, blue-bound book displays the handwritten poems of one student, illustrated by the author. Most works are geared around the themes "I Am," "Love Is" and a heartfelt description of a color.
"These 'I Am' poems help show how they view themselves and how they feel inside," said Michele Okimura, the teacher who guided the students. "Poems are a good way of expressing yourself. You get things on paper that you wouldn't get if you had to sit down and think about it."
When they had neatly written and illustrated their poems and sent the pages to a bindery, the class last week dedicated the book to Paiz, who said she "cannot think of a prouder day in my life as principal."
She showed the book to the five board members of the two-school Valley Lindo School District. "It was the highlight of the meeting," she beamed.
Students in the remedial reading and writing program, called a reading lab, have received substandard scores on state achievement tests, Okimura said, qualifying them for the lab paid for with special state funds. Many of the youngsters have consistently done poorly on the tests.
"A lot of them have been coming in with low self-image, especially in writing," Okimura said. "But since they've tried it, I've seen terrific progress in the vocabulary they use."
"They were using 'good' and 'bad'--those kinds of words. Now they're using much more expressive words, like 'joyful' and 'terrible.' "
As the students helped each other to spell or choose the right word they said, poetry also brought them closer together.
"It's our work that we did and we all like it," said Melissa Lopez, 10.
"I love to come to reading lab now," chimed in Azarel. "We can write a whole lot now. That's what I like about it."
Selections From Children's Poetry
I am a beautiful butterfly flying through the blue sky
I am a tree whose branches rustle in the wind
I am a clock that never ticks
I am a beautiful red rose that never dies
I am a twinkling star that never shines
I am a joyful cookie that never melts
I am a shiny heart that never breaks
I am a cute snail that makes a lacy trail
I am a happy clown that never cries
I am a baby that never whines
I am a book that never has been read before
By Lydia Perez, Grade 6
I am sand that everyone steps on and leaves footprints on
I am a light that does not work
I am a garbage can that gets dented by cars and people
I am a piece of paper that no one writes, uses or makes pictures on
I am a lamp that no one uses or puts a light bulb in either
I am a puzzle that nobody buys or opens to see what is in it
By Scott Carns, Grade 4