Fourteen people sit in a classroom at Middlesex County College every Tuesday and forget that they have come from many different schools, instead acting as if they have known each other for years.
The Middlesex County Arts High School Program is what allows this to be possible. Buses take every student who participates in this program out of their third block class and to MCC where they attend a class in a college environment about the art form they participate in.
Freshman and participant Celina Lin says, “It’s a great experience as it reserves time in the week to work on art-related subjects that you enjoy. It also gives an opportunity to learn and focus on the arts you are passionate about.”
The art forms range from classical singing to 3-D visual art to poetry. In order to take part in any of these classes, students auditioned in December. The instructors then mailed the results over winter break.
The poetry class has 14 participants this year, all from different schools throughout the county.
The class is taught by Charles H. Johnson, who prefers to be called “Charles.” He encourages students to take advantage of the college environment by discarding normal class behaviors such as raising hands to answer questions.
The class starts immediately with the instructor giving the students a creative cliché, such as “read between the lines” or “seeing is believing.” The class then has 15 minutes to write a poem of any style based on the provided cliché.
A few nerve-wracking minutes later, Johnson invites any student who is comfortable with presenting to stand at the podium in front of the classroom and share what he or she has written. Afterwords, he asks the rest of the class how they felt about the poem, such as what imagery they heard and which lines stood out to them. He always encourages students to write down a well-written line when they hear a poem.
From there, the class proceeds with whatever form of poetry that Johnson has planned. The first week started with syllabic poetry, eventually transitioning to free verse and continuing from there.
The class often works in three established groups of four to five people, known as the three stanzas, similar to working in workshops. Here, students are really able to share their poetry and collaborate with others on the various ideas they have.
Each student also has a sense book, which is a mini spiral notebook where they write down the different senses they experience during their day-to-day lives. Students can later use those entries to turn them into poems.
At the end of the session, Johnson assigns three different homework assignments. They range from simply polishing a poem written in class to turning a sense book entry into a poem. The class is then dismissed, with students feeling like they know a little more about each other and the art of poetry.
Freshman Keerthana Talla, who takes the poetry class, says, “The class allows me to explore my passion in ways that regular school does not. It’s an opportunity to explore my gifts.”
Both the class and the Arts High School Program in general encourage students to explore their talents and challenge them to go further with their passions and joys.
What are your opinions on the Arts High School program?