Teaching Artist Trainee inspired by Poet Barbara Danish


When I was eight years old, Barbara Danish, a poet, came to our neighborhood school, P.S. 107, to do a poetry project. All of my classmates wrote poems, stories, and drew pictures for the project. When it was over she designed and printed, “The Moon at Midnight,” an anthology of our creative work.

I cherish this book. Today still I have a battered copy on my bookshelf.  The word SIRE is scrawled on the inside cover in big, 3D bubble letters. My brother was practicing graffiti at the time.

When I flip through the pages each poem inside brings me back to my childhood. The short story my brother wrote about a seal named Quotect. The poem by my friend Fumiyo’s older sister Shizu which speaks of bedtime and sibling rivalry. And the poem about furry mice that are like “little jellies” by my friend Stephen:

“We had to kill one of you
We’re sorry about that.”

“The Moon at Midnight” reminds me what Barbara Danish did for us. She helped us document our lives. She gave us a creative tool to express everything we saw, heard, smelled, and touched.  We felt honored, respected, and free to express ourselves.

I am a poet as an adult because I was inspired by Barbara Danish. This year I started walking in her footsteps again. I completed the Teaching Artist Training and Internship Program (TATIP) at Community-Word Project.

As part of my professional training, I was placed in a classroom. It was during this internship I saw the power of arts education and self-advocacy. I saw the look on every child’s face when they recited:

“ I have a Voice!”

“My voice is Powerful!”

“My voice can change the World!”

Community-Word Project changes children’s lives. Just as Barbara Danish had changed mine. Writing poems, dancing, painting, and acting is not just important for the children who will grow into poets, dancers, artists, and actors. It is important for all children. Creating is an integral part of being human. Community-Word Project’s approach in the classroom is a testament to that. Every lesson honors a variety of intelligences, learning ability, and builds a strong classroom community.

In one classroom the opening ritual was singing “This Little Light of Mine,” a cherished part of the class time for students. When Teaching Artists were there, students got to laugh, lead, sing, write, dance, and share with one another. As a trainee I joined in that magical learning experience—and shared my knowledge with the our students.

In a lesson I prepared with another TATIP intern, a dancer, we taught literary metaphor through physical movement. It was exciting to exchange ideas with an artist from another discipline. And it allowed children the space to awaken a multitude of artistic expressions.

So often children are ridiculed when they attempt to create: “You drew outside the lines.” “That’s not the way the song goes.” “You dance silly.” 

Community-Word Project does the opposite. Every child’s artistic attempt is encouraged, nurtured, and honored. I remember the end of a lesson I taught on alliteration. Once the students finished writing their poems, I asked them to read for the group. As each child read, I could hear pride in their voices and see it in their posture. After each child finished, all of the other students snapped their fingers in appreciation.

It would be easy to shrug off these small moments as no big deal. They are a huge deal. Bringing hope into classrooms is no small feat. I witnessed it firsthand through Community-Word Project’s TATIP program.

I believe, more strongly than ever, that we all have voices that can change the world. There are no limits to what we can do.  

– by LEILA ORTIZ, Teaching Artist Trainee, 2013-2014