Collegiate Avenue Elementary School was buzzing with activity and excitement last week as students created a book of poetry dedicated to Lincoln Alexander.
Every student contributed a poem in the spirit of the former Ontario lieutenant-governor and first black member of Parliament, who loved to inspire children, especially when it came to reading and writing. Alexander died last October at age 90.
The students will see their work published as part of the Book-in-a-Day program. The program, which teaches and empowers kids to write and publish their own books, was established in 2006 by American children’s author, poet and speaker Kwame Alexander.
“Lincoln was all about literacy. He would love this,” said his widow, Marni Alexander. “He loved the kids and this is something that he could be involved in; this is something that he could have got his teeth into. I think he would feel tremendous pride.”
Marni said she just happened to see an article in the newspaper one Sunday in May about the Book-in-a-Day program and its founder.
“I thought it was such an amazing program. Then I looked at the bottom of the article and it said Kwame Alexander,” she said. “He’s a tall, black man talking about literacy and his last name is Alexander…talk about signs. I thought, I just have to find him and bring him here.”
Marni immediately got in touch with Collegiate Avenue teacher Mubina Panju.
Panju’s father-in-law is a doctor who helped Marni when Lincoln was sick.
Panju then contacted principal Laurie Behr about the program and the possibility of bringing Kwame to the school to work with the students.
“I thought the idea sounded wonderful, so I left my house and rushed out to meet with everyone – that’s how our initial meeting went,” Behr said. “Then we just started planning the whole thing – meeting with Marni, talking with Kwame over many emails trying to arrange this – and it wouldn’t have happened without Marni’s sponsorship and it wouldn’t have happened without her being who she is. That’s what intrigued him and motivated him to come to our school.”
Behr said the teachers jumped right on board.
Last month, the students began learning about the different kinds of poetry.
They also started writing their masterpieces.
So when Kwame arrived last Monday, they were all ready to deliver their messages.
Kwame conducted fun writing classes with the students all week.
Students got a chance to recite their poems out loud for everyone to hear.
Kwame encouraged the students and provided positive feedback.
Then the Grade 8 students gathered in the library to brainstorm ideas for the title of the book and participate in a publication process last Friday.
Students played the roles of editors, proof readers, cover designers, production managers and marketing gurus.
When Kwame left the school last Friday, he took a rough draft of a book of poetry entitled, Deep See, with him. He will return to the school before Christmas to deliver the published version of the nearly 200-page book dedicated to Lincoln Alexander.
Behr said she hopes the experience instills a sense of confidence in each student.
“I think they will take with them the idea that they can do anything they put their mind to. The fact that they’re been inspired to write, I’m hoping promotes their literacy skills, their love of reading, their love of writing and that they just go forward with that,” she said. “We’re dedicating definitely this book to Lincoln because he was a big part of Hamilton and promoting literacy; he was a role model. When the kids were watching Kwame do his thing, they were so engaged and loving who he is and that’s all due to Marni’s contributions.”
Marni said the experience with the school, students and Kwame has been “such a positive one.”
“The teachers have just been fantastic, the staff has just been fantastic. And it is in love of Lincoln, but it’s also just the love of learning,” she said. “Lincoln wanted to show kids that if they try hard enough, they can and they will. That is the crux of the whole thing.”