Eighth graders at De Marillac Academy, an extraordinary Catholic school in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin, are making changes in their world, through poems.
The 24 students are celebrating their new volume of poetry, “Paths Ahead,” with a reading and reception on Wednesday. The 2015 edition is the third poetry book by students at the school, which provides tuition-free education to low-income youngsters in the area. (Ninety percent of its students graduate high school.)
Some of the poems reflect the kids’ rough surroundings: In “A Wish for My Neighborhood,” Jeffery Jiminez writes: “My neighborhood smells/ like carbon, like street cleaner’s soup/with smoke from all the smokers/and drug users,” while James Sunga titles his poem “Why the Violence?” and writes “Many people are/ shooting innocent people/ because they don’t/ know how to solve problems.”
Michael Anderer, the school’s vice president for mission advancement, says the students are able to take on such weighty topics due to the context in which they’re writing: “They’re doing it in a safe place, a community setting where they feel connected to their peers and connected to adults; the teacher is creating an environment of trust.”
In the book’s forward, language arts teacher Rich Hill writes, “While these students know what it means to be relentless and to perservere each day, they also know how to be fully present and to celebrate life’s wonders.”
Through the years, De Marillac students’ poems have touched people beyond the students’ immediate surroundings, says Anderer, who has shared them at governmental and community meetings attended by the mayor and city supervisors. Last year, the school created an evocative video featuring scenes from the neighborhood with lines from poems in the first two editions of the book.
Of course, not all of the sentiments in “Paths Ahead” are gloomy. Karina Bonilla’s “Hey, Home” is a cheerful, whimsical greeting. She writes: “Hi mom, I’m home!/ Hello, meal-giving kitchen!/ Hey there, new purple, unstained couch! / Nice to see you, boredom-killng television/I missed you, soft, lovely stress-relieving bed./ What’s up, conversation-holding dinner table?/ Hey colorful, outfit-filled closet!/Hi home, I’m glad I have you./ Thanks for all you’ve given me!/ Bye home, I love you and see you later!
IF YOU GO
De Marillac Academy poetry reading and reception
Where: Demonstration Gardens, 333 Golden Gate Ave., S.F.
When: Noon May 6
By: De Marillac Academy eighth graders