Poetry and the Whole Person
By Roger Frank
Woven throughout life is literacy which contributes to a person’s growth. As the Director of All Saints Literacy Center, I work with our staff and volunteers to provide free one- to-one literacy and English as a Second Language (ESL) tutoring for adults. Our trained volunteers teach their students using a life skills based ESL curriculum. Whenever possible, cultural ideas are shared between the tutors and students to enhance the learning experience. Our students are primarily Spanish speakers who want to learn English to improve their lives and their families’ lives. They recognize the value of knowing the dominant language in the U.S. in order to achieve success in whatever form that may be.
This past year, All Saints Literacy Center piloted a supplemental program called “Whole Person Literacy” focused on spiritual and cultural literacy based on concepts of knowing, understanding, and self-development. We had monthly activities that were carried out in pairs or in groups. Learners and tutors participating in the program gained knowledge and created meaning individually and socially as they took part in the activities. The needs of the whole person were explored through an alternative lens of literacy.
One of the highlights of the Whole Person Literacy program was our students and tutors participating in the Trenzas Poetry event presented by Dr. Jorge Prósperi. It was a special moment because the event satisfied a yearning for truth and knowing. For some of our participants (like Laura who experienced firsthand a situation like the one in the poem La Mirada) there was recognition and affirmation. Additionally, one of our tutors shared with me that hearing her student read one of the poems in Trenzas fluently in Spanish was a revelation of the woman’s literacy capabilities. The tutor had always experienced her ESL student struggling with the written word in English. Upon hearing the woman read in her native language, the tutor had a new insight into her student’s life. After the presentation, a tutor sent me a message and said, “I can always tell a good program because the time just flies by. Dr. Prósperi kept everybody engaged with good visuals and was speaking in English and Spanish for those that needed that. Excellent program!”
Our tutors and students were truly engaged as Dr. Prósperi shared how Trenzas came to fruition, and they were moved by the expressive poetry in his book. After hearing selections from Trenzas, the participants reflected on the significance of the words, and shared their reflections with each other orally and through writing. This was an essential part of the experience because the sharing touched the participants emotionally, and these feelings led to greater self-knowledge. It was most satisfying for everyone to collectively experience the beauty and depth in the poetry. This allowed our tutors and students to grow beyond a traditional English lesson. To that end, the Trenzas event was transformative and empowering, thus fulfilling a need for truth and meaning.
Roger Frank has over 17 years of experience in education both in public schools and in community based programs. He has a Master of Arts in Teaching from Wayne State University in Detroit with a certification in English as a Second Language. In addition to his Director position at All Saints Literacy Center, he is an Adjunct ESL Instructor at Henry Ford College.
Helping people reach their language learning goals to promote their personal growth is at the forefront of his work.