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March Madness is poetry to Pleasant Hills Middle Schoolers

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

In Susan Luckhardt's English classes at Pleasant Hills Middle School, it wasn't Gators, Huskies, Badgers or Wildcats on her students' minds as April began.

During their March Madness competition, poet bested poet until Shel Silverstein took the title for his “Whatif” verse.

Luckhardt has gotten her eighth-graders closer to poetry in the last four years with this exercise. In most schools, it's a subject some students find to be too complicated to make sense.

“Using the March Madness terms, the voting and brackets have kept them into it,” Luckhardt said.

Other students can catch the “madness” by stopping by to check the progress on the paper bracket in the hallway.

“I was a little nervous at first,” she said.

The teacher began with some classic poems and mixed in more contemporary ones. On the first day, students picked the Elite 8, Final Four and the Champion based only on the poems' titles. Then, by studying a few poems every day and reading poems in groups, they learned about poetic devices.

Five classes totaling 100 students work through the unit.

“It's a good way to pique their interest in poetry,” Luckhardt said.

Mackenzie McCormick liked the activity a lot.

“Poe is my favorite,” she said. “He's interesting and very different.”

She liked “Whatif,” too.

“I could relate to the theme of it,” she said.

While Zach Landers doesn't agree with making poetry into a competition, he can see a reason for it.

“It's a way to get the more athletic kids involved. It's joining the two worlds,” he said.

He connected the poet study with the “Dead Poets Society,” a movie he enjoyed.

“I'm an old soul,” he said. “The Road Not Taken” speaks to me.”

Luckhardt said she was pleased to find students taking a risk to understand Maya Angelou's “Still I Rise.”

“Some thought it was about slavery. Others thought it was about anything that held them down in life,” she said. “It was heavy and deep. That made it all worth it.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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