In a dimly lit room at Marguerite Christian Elementary School last week, the sound of snaps filled the air as students clad in black responded to a poem read by one of their peers.
The event, Beatnik Day, was the culmination of the fifth grade, Center-Based Gifted writing class’ unit on poetry, teacher Christine Henry said. Beatnik Day is in its fourth year, she said.
“Thanks man, I’m so glad you got the flyer to come down to Henry’s Hip Hideaway,” Henry said as she welcomed students to the “café.” Some students wore berets and some donned sunglasses, but all took at least one turn reading a poem to the class.
“It was a lot of fun,” said student Melody Franco, 10. Henry gave the students time to write poetry, she said. Madelyn Tatum, 11, said students from last year’s class visited her class and “showed us what they dressed up as.” And, the “café” itself was a surprise.
“We weren’t allowed to come in until 10 [a.m.],” she said.
Before the event, students read poetry and poetic novels, Henry said, and they write poetry. The unit culminates with study of the Beat Generation, a group of American writers who became prominent in the 1950s.
The students “kind of don’t know what to expect” on Beatnik Day, she said; they waited with the third grade CBG class until the room was ready, and then they were seated in groups, as guests would be at a restaurant.
“I didn’t let them see the classroom or any of that,” she said.
Teacher Krista Gagliardo, who taught the group of students in third grade, said it was great to see some of the “normally quiet” kids go up to share during the open mic portion of Beatnik Day. Henry agreed, and said it’s important for the students to have good public speaking skills.
“I thought they did a great job,” Gagliardo said.
Gagliardo even took to the mic herself before Beatnik Day was done.
“Words. Power. Speak ‘em. Use ‘em. Choose ‘em,” she said.