Sharing Emily Dickinson with Students in Kenyaby kenya on Jun. 19, 2012, under Life
June 18, 2012
By Olivia Larsen, St. Gregory Class of ‘13
In an eighth grade classroom today, one of the girls stepped outside to ring the bell that signified class was over. She came back in, sat down, and proceeded to copy down the math problem I was writing on the board. I told them that they could leave class and go to lunch, but they disagreed: “Fifteen more minutes, please!” they said.
A similar thing happened with my sixth graders. The hand-rung bell sounded and they repeated the mantra “Finish problem first, then break!”
In elementary school in America, a social aspect usually motivates students scrambling to switch seats. Here in Kenya, when I change the area of the chalkboard on which I am writing, the room momentarily comes alive with 11-year-olds clamoring to get the seat with the best view of the chalkboard.
For part of today, I ignored the hands of the students in the front row and focused on engaging the back of the room. Noticing this trend, my buddy Kevin snuck away from his seat in the front row and slinked to the back, hoping to answer even more questions.
When the students here are sent to the library for a class, they sprint, unwilling to waste any time in transit.
These moments are snapshots indicative of my experience at Manyatta Primary School. They probably aren’t very memorable to the students, because these moments just encompass who they are: enthusiastic, eager, excited and entirely uninhibited (accidental alliteration!).
Alliteration was a topic of conversation today with my sixth graders: Emily Dickinson wrote in “I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose” that “the steeples swam in amethyst” and “the Bobolinks begun.” Through this poem—and the Dickinson poem I recited for St. Gregory’s Poetry Out Loud competition—our class discussed repetition, personification, metaphor, and the elements emblematic of Emily Dickinson like arbitrary capitalization—along with the use of dashes. We also took turns reading aloud the poems to admire the cadence of the language. The students really valued the break from their usual English classes, which focus on grammar and spelling.
Being able to share this poetry with them is one of the merits of memorization: we don’t have enough Internet access to justify searching for poems, so the fact that Mrs. Young and my father have both facilitated my memorization of Emily Dickinson has been much appreciated by my students and me. These students have smiles that take up half of their faces, their excitement bursting out. When I’ve left Africa, the grins of these children will stay with me.