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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Best day ever’: Stevens Elementary third graders participate in poetry slam at SCC

Spokane Community College student volunteer Brooklyn Clark, center, hugs Stevens Elementary third-graders Nadiia Diak, left, and Ameliia Chava, after the 13th annual Poetry Slam on Wednesday at SCC.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Santiago, an 8-year-old at Stevens Elementary School, pushed up his glasses as he nervously began reading his poem Wednesday to a crowd participating in the annual Poetry Slam at Spokane Community College.

“I’m Santiago,” a timid voice said, before beginning the acrostic poem of his name.

The room, full of volunteers and 61 third graders, was quiet.

“S is for Strong,” Santiago said, his voice growing louder and more assured.

When he finished the poem, the room erupted into applause and Santiago’s grin was instantaneous.

“You are so brave,” his mentor Kallie, an SCC student, said.

It was the 13th annual Poetry Slam at SCC, put on by the Speak Out club. Students spend nearly a whole day on the community college campus, reading and writing poetry with the support of more than 100 community college volunteers.

The program started when Derek Mollin, a teacher at nearby Stevens Elementary School, started a poetry café in his classroom.

One of his students’ parents was enrolled at SCC and connected him with Linda Seppa Salisbury, her communication teacher.

Seppa Salisbury thought a daylong poetry program would be an empowering and encouraging event for students at Stevens, located just a few blocks from the SCC campus, she said.

“It’s a wonderful field trip for these kids,” she said.

After more than a dozen years, the program has become something the Stevens students look forward to from the time they start elementary school, she said. They watch their siblings attend the program and can’t wait for their turn.

“This means a lot to them,” she said.

The program doesn’t just teach students how to write poetry; it teaches them about rhyming, how to put ideas together, helps them practice public speaking, and gives them hours of attention and mentorship from volunteers, who help them write their poems, Seppa Salisbury said.

It also gives them a look at a real college campus, Anderson said. Many students leave inspired to attend SCC one day, she added.

Seppa Salisbury and Anderson advise the Speak Out club that puts on the event.

They formally invite the students a few weeks in advance, giving them something to look forward to. Each year, the event has a theme. This year’s was “I am Brave!”

Standing at the front of the brightly decorated conference room, Seppa Salisbury read a poem she wrote for this year’s students.

“Say it with me – so everyone can hear. I am brave! Say it again,” she called.

“I am brave,” the students shouted in return.

For Seppa Salisbury, who plans to retire this summer after 36 years of teaching, the poetry slam is one of the highlights of her year.

“It’s the best day ever,” Ameliia, an 8-year-old, agreed.

She got up the courage to read her poem about family to the group.

“My family is loving

We love to hike and ride a bike

We do a lot of things together. Warm and sunny is our favorite weather

We go camping in the summer. It’s always fun and never a bummer

We go swimming in the pool and it’s always nice and cool

We love to go on trips, especially on ships.

We love to go on planes and jump in puddles when it rains

We go to the beach and swim, and we never feel grim.”

The crowd clapped loudly when she finished.

“It maked me happy and excited,” Ameliia said of the applause. “I just write from my heart.”