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Poetry Slam Builds Enthusiasm and Courage for Writing

Imagine fifth grade students filled with excitement about writing two weeks after state testing?  The Fifth Grade Poetry Slam at Alma Intermediate School builds enthusiasm for writing and adds a new instructional focus at a time of the year which might easily suffer from an emotional dip.  “The experience was awesome!  Reading in front of everyone got my spine a-tingling,” said one fifth grader.   The poetry workshop is funded through the Arkansas Arts Council Mini Grant Program.

Clayton Scott leading a poetry session.

Clayton Scott leading a poetry session.

Nationally recognized guest poet, Clayton Scott, spent one week working with fifth graders in poetry sessions and taking students to the next level in their expressive writing.   Mr. Scott met with all 260 fifth grade students each day.  More than 1,200 poems were written by students during the week.  Scott taught a variety of poetry styles and techniques along with creative tools that help even the most reluctant writers engage in the process.

A major focus of the week was encouraging students to “confront their inner chicken.”  Students were challenged to stand up and speak out as they wrote and shared their poems.    “I liked writing my poems and learned that fear shouldn’t keep you from doing something.   I learned to confront my inner chicken and how to write better poetry,” said one typically reserved fifth grader.


Mr. Scott used an eagle graphic to represent a balanced approach to writing.  For students’ writing to “soar” it takes a balanced effort by both wings.   One wing contains the mechanics of good writing.  Mr. Scott doesn’t dwell on these elements because they should be in place and are accomplished in editing.  He places great emphasis on the creative wing which contains sensory imagery, power words, simile, metaphor, and many more.   According to one student, “The experience was awesome. I learned how to use expressive language in all of my writing.”

Students had writing assignments each night based on poetry techniques taught that day.  As students shared their poems the following day, Mr. Scott coached students on speech, delivery, and expressive reading.

The week culminated in a Poetry Slam open to the public.  Finalists from every class were in competition on the final afternoon.  Students were selected to act as judges for the Poetry Slam.  Students were designated as masters of ceremony and filled other duties for the event which gave a strong sense of student ownership.

Student performing his poem at the slam.

Student performing his poem at the slam.

A total of twenty-six finalists performed in the Poetry Slam along with Clayton Scott.  Five students were selected as overall trophy winners.     It was noted that some students who had not exhibited outstanding writing in the past came to the forefront in the poetry competition.  It was a great chance for students to celebrate the successes of their peers.   One finalist said, “At the poetry workshop I learned that you can have courage and express the stories of your life through poetry.”

Courage and creativity are exactly what our children need!  Alma Intermediate School has found that poetry is a tool for helping students acquire both of these qualities.

Clayton Scott, guest poet, reminding students to confront and defeat their "inner chicken."

Clayton Scott, guest poet, reminding students to confront and defeat their “inner chicken.”

R-E-A-P: Harvesting the Good by JD Finley


JD Finley

JD Finley

From a speech given by JD Finley for Alma Intermediate School 5th graders on May 23, 2013

JD Finley graduated from Alma High School in 2012 and is currently a student at UAFS.

My name is JD Finley.  I graduated from Alma last year as one of eleven valedictorians, which means I was at the top of my class. I had all A’s every year of school and graduated with Honors. I played football and threw discus until I tore my ACL my sophomore year. I have a sister. I love Reese’s Cups and bacon. I love to read. And I like short walks to the refrigerator.

One of my passions is for kids your age. When Mr. Warnock asked me to speak here, I panicked because I was afraid of you guys.  I know I’m a big guy with a beard, but I was scared of y’all… still am a little bit.  I also don’t like speaking in front of people, but I got to praying and thinking about it and I decided that I would “cowboy up” and speak to you guys with the hope that I might be able to make your education more beneficial and give you some tips that will help you reach your goals.

I sat down and came up with an acronym for the word REAP, R-E-A-P which means to harvest or gather, I’ll come back to why I chose that word at the end but for right now, I want to begin with the R which stands for Respect.


What we just did by clapping for your teachers was show them some respect for all that they’ve done for you. But I’m not just talking about giving them a round of applause when I say respect.  I am talking about showing them respect in the classroom for their authority. They became teachers to help you and educate you in preparation for life. Yes, I’ve had a few teachers that I didn’t really enjoy or get along with, but I always shown them respect.  I think if you asked every teacher in here what they thought the biggest non-academic problem was they’d say disrespect. If you want to make the most out of your next seven years, not even that but the rest of your lives, respect goes a long way with anyone you come into contact with.

I don’t mean just respect for teachers, I mean fellow students as well. No matter how different you are from someone else or how much you disagree with them, you should always show them respect and compassion. I don’t know how many of you have heard or read about the Good Samaritan, but it was an example used by Jesus to explain what it means to show respect and compassion for another person. The story is told in Luke chapter 10 verses 25-37 but I’m just going to read 30-35.

In order to understand just how compassionate and respectful this act was you must first understand that the man who was beaten was Jewish, and the rescuer was a Samaritan. And Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies.  This would be like if I was beaten by robbers and left on the side of the road.  An Alma person passes me by and does nothing.  A Van Buren person passes and looks away, but a Greenwood person stops and takes care of me. As much as I don’t like Greenwood, that’s true compassion, to be able to think and care for someone else regardless of how different you are.


To have ethics means to live by a certain code or rules that govern your behavior. I believe having ethics is important to obtaining a healthy education. Part of living by a set of ethics is striving to have character and knowing right from wrong. Like one of my heroes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Intelligence, plus character, that is the goal of true education.” If you will start now developing character and doing the right things, people will notice.  It may be hard sometimes but there is nothing more rewarding on earth than having a clear conscience and knowing you did the right thing.

When I was an 8th grader I had a teacher that gave us a test and left the room.  Everyone in that class started talking about the questions and answers, passing them back and forth.  I was tempted to do the same because the teacher would never know about it. But I didn’t give in.  I sat there and never said a word even though some of them were trying to talk to me. I knew that they would probably all have higher grades than I did on that test, but I would still have my clear conscience.

I abided by my set of ethics and did right rather than wrong. I kept my character while everyone else compromised theirs for the sake of a test grade. I wanted to do my best at everything even if that meant me getting a B or a C, but MY best, not someone else’s best, which is what I would be doing if I cheated off of another person. I cared more about who I was on the inside – my character, because that lasts a lifetime rather than my grades which only last a semester. I said all of that to say that education is not enough if you do not do the right thing as well. An educated person who has character is an extremely powerful combo….. okay on to the next letter… A.


Aspire.  To aspire means to hope, dream, or to strive for a goal. One of the biggest things that helped me in my school career is goal setting and management. I believe it is a central key to unlocking wherever you want to go in life. It is not enough to just dream about something, but rather make an action plan to achieve that dream.  That’s what aspiring is all about.

When I was in the 5th grade I got knocked out of the school wide spelling bee close to the end. I told myself that by the end of my 8th grade year I would win Crawford County and go to the state bee. So each year I studied harder and practiced longer for it. Each day after that I made sure that I was doing all that I could do to put myself in position to achieve that dream, and you know what? I did it. I made fourth place my sixth grade year in the county bee, third place my seventh grade year, and my eighth grade year I won the Crawford County Spelling bee and ended up being the 20th best speller in the state, all because I aspired for that dream.

The same thing happened for me to be a Valedictorian of my class. When I was an eighth grader I saw the valedictorians together on stage at graduation and I decided that I would be one of them when I graduated. So I did everything I could to put myself in that position.  I wasn’t the smartest by any means, but nobody on that stage could have said that they worked harder than I did to be there. All because I set up a plan to make that dream a reality.

Whatever you want to be in life, whether that’s a doctor, or a lawyer, or a trash guy, or maybe a mail man, or even the President, set up a plan to achieve that dream and get after it. Nobody is going to just hand that to you, you have to work for what you want in life. So set a goal, make a plan, and work to achieve it. Aspire higher…. Now for the last letter P, probably my favorite.


I chose the word passion because I wish that I had developed a passion for learning when I was your age. The dictionary definition of having a passion for something means you have a strong liking for or devotion to some activity or concept. But I would put it like this: If you have a passion for something it means you would be willing to do it for free because you enjoy it so much.

Your passion is whatever you do when your work is all done and you have time to yourself. I have multiple passions in my life, but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I truly enjoyed learning about every subject. Until that point my two favorite subjects were History and English. I didn’t like science and hated math. But when I became a Junior I heard a speech by Mr. Valentine, the high school principal that totally changed my view of learning. He said “If you truly want to succeed in life and make a difference, then see to it that you know EVERYTHING about something, and SOMETHING about everything.”

Now I’m not telling you guys that you have to know everything about something yet, because that will come later, a lot later.  I still don’t know everything about something.  What I am hoping you will take from this is the knowing something about everything part and seizing the opportunities to learn between now and your last year of high school. I really wish that I had paid more attention during my middle school years to science and math.  It would have helped me when I got to High School. If you struggle with a certain subject or are weaker in an area like I was in math and science, don’t just give up on it.  Try your hardest to understand those concepts.  Put more time into those weaker subjects because I promise you it will pay off in the long run.  If you develop a passion for learning you will never cease to grow.

So to sum it up, if you put all four of these principles together you get Respect, Ethics, Aspire, and Passion. R-E-A-P. Reap. Respect everyone, Ethics in the classroom, Aspire higher, and Passion for learning.  When you apply each of these concepts to your life, you will gain the benefits of being a well-rounded student, and not only that but a well- rounded human being.

I hope that maybe this has made you guys think about what kind of person and student you want to be. If you have any questions or just want to talk I’ll be here for a little while after the assembly so feel free to come by and say hey.  I’m kind of shy but I’d love to answer your questions. Thank you guys for listening!


Parenting…Perfection Not Required

My parents raised two children and have celebrated 60 years of marriage.

My parents raised two children and have celebrated 60 years of marriage.

I had great parents but didn’t realize this until around age 25. They’ve become more impressive to me with each passing year.  What made them great parents?  I’d like to list a few things that stand out to me.

They were there…  My parents made an effort to attend performances and sporting events I was involved in.  More importantly, they were there emotionally at home.  We had conversations and they let me know that I was an important part of the family….not the center of attention….not the center of their universe, but an important part of the family.

They had expectations of me.  They gave me jobs around the house and expected them to be done.  They expected me to do well in school.  They expected me to work and earn a living. They expected me to respect others. The list goes on but you get the idea.

My parents treated each other with respect.  They may have gotten a little cross or edgy on rare occasions but always in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

My parents loved me unconditionally but also let me experience negative consequences.  They never cared less about me because I made a mistake but they did require that I face the consequences of my actions.  Consequences could be unpleasant but I knew they loved me no matter what.

Parenting is a difficult task!  My parents have often said they weren’t perfect but I don’t think perfection is required.  Giving yourself to the job of parenting and doing the best you can each day is the key.

As an educator, I’m thankful that parents are willing to trust us with their most precious possessions, their children.  Children will someday recognize the good work their parents and teachers do and we will have the satisfaction of seeing their continued growth and learning.

This is me trying to help my dad.

This is me trying to help my dad.

My parents flanked by me and my sister.

My parents flanked by me and my sister.

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