Valery Dinkins proved that a little decorating and a lot of imagination can accomplish a lot.
Heather Dunaway (left) and Lyndsi Madison recite poetry in Valery Dinkins' classroom turned coffee house at Harlem Middle School,
Photo by Jim Blaylock
A few beads here, a couple of lava lamps there, and her sixth-grade language-arts classroom at Harlem Middle School was transformed into the From the Heart Coffee House, where a bunch of beatniks - er, pupils - enjoyed a cup of java (fruit punch) and shared some good poetry.
The pupils have been studying poetry in all its forms - sinquains, haiku, limericks, free verse and narrative - and ended the unit with a poetry reading in their classroom turned coffeehouse.
"They know they have to do their work to get in," Ms. Dinkins said. "It's really motivated them to do a good job."
Like any famous coffeehouse, this one has had its share of celebrity sightings. Harlem Mayor John Bentley and Councilman Robin Root came to hear the poetry readings and drink a cup of "joe."
There were even waiters equipped with trays and black aprons from Logan's Road House. On his break, Robert Smith took the mike to share a poem he had written:
Dear Lord, I have not sworn today,
I didn't yell at anyone,
I have not taken anything,
or charged something on my credit card.
I will get out of bed.
The pupils responded with snaps of approval.
"Come on, Billy Bob," said master of ceremonies Mickey Lay, urging pupils to come on stage. "Nick, how 'bout you? Austin, come on."
William Walker stepped up to share a limerick he had written:
I saw a dragon
By a wagon
He was breathing fire
at that flier
Just talking about that dragon.
Kathy Dunaway was stretched out on one of two couches in the back of the room to watch her daughter Heather perform.
"This is wonderful," Ms. Dunaway said. "It's such a good way to get kids to stand up without a lot of pressure on them and to get them used to speaking in public. Every one of the children has gotten up and said something. A lot of kids are just so shy. It also teaches them a love of poetry."
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