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Elementary students share poetry at Salish Kootenai College

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LAKE COUNTY — Elementary school students from throughout Lake County gathered at Salish Kootenai College campus for a potluck on Tuesday, May 2 to share the poetry they’d written during Missoula Writing Collaborative residencies. 

Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and High Stakes Foundation, the 12-week residencies in Arlee, Dixon, St. Ignatius, Pablo, and Ronan involved notable local writers such as Caroline Keys and Chris la Tray from the collaborative to visit classrooms once a week. During these hour-long visits, the writers explored numerous types of poetry with students, from haiku to odes, as well as free verse poems about memory, dreams, and imagination. A program in place since 2019, this year was special for students and teachers alike. 

This school year was the first time writers and students were able to work together in person in two years due to COVID, and collaborative Executive Director Caroline Patterson said the enthusiasm was palpable. “The kids were just pumped,” Patterson laughed. While she credited part of the energy to the teaching power of Keys and Tray, she said the other part is having their teachers there with them. The enthusiasm carried to the recent reading, in which kids were eager to read aloud the poetry they’d worked so hard on. 

Around 12 students were able to go and read their poems at the college, Patterson said. As a special bonus, Aspen Decker worked to translate one poem from each elementary school to Salish. She then presented the Salish versions at the potluck, with the English versions read by Patterson along with her. Additionally, local poet Heather Cahoon made a special appearance to read from her poetry book “Horsefly Dress” to the delight of the young aspiring poets. 

One of the projects undertaken by the students this year was to write a poem about their town. Several kids chose this as their poem to share at the event. Town poems made into special “poetry posters” to celebrate each town, were also displayed during the potluck. These posters are now at the Missoula Art Museum and will be available for viewing through June 1. 

Patterson was thankful for the teachers who donated their time and organized a bus to and from the event from Arlee for all the kids. She also expressed gratitude to the principals, Cahoon, Decker and school districts for putting together the evening event she described as “magical.” 

Now that this year’s residencies are winding down, the writers will work on each school’s printed poetry anthologies that will be gifted to the students in the next month or so, as well as finish up the poetry readings for families in every town. Next year’s residencies will resume in the fall. Patterson said she looks forward to more of these events next year. Seeing students embrace their talent for writing is something she finds very special, and it all culminated this year at the potluck reading. 

“It really was a magical evening for those kids,” Patterson said. “I think it meant a lot to everybody.”

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