Poetry is popping up around town in the form of sonnets written by Forest Park Middle School seventh-grade teacher Richard Hearn’s classes. On display at Jimmy’s Place is a “sonnet to pasta” by Kirstin Hofmann: “This pasta tastes so good, I have to Tweet!” At Ferrara Pan, chocolate gets a love poem from Natalie Carrera: “My, oh my, you are a beautiful dream. … You bring a party to my tummy.” Other sonnets appear at Portillo’s (theme: burgers), the Park District of Forest Park (soccer, basketball), the Teen Room at the Forest Park Public Library (sleep, life is a roller coaster) and the FPMS principal’s office (getting in trouble).

They’re part of Hearn’s goal to get seventh-graders primed to study Shakespeare next year, when they’ll read Romeo and Juliet. Students read a historical fiction novel, King of Shadows by Susan Cooper, about a child-actor who returns to Shakespeare’s era when he falls ill on a school field trip to London.

FPMS students built paper models of the Globe Theater in London. Using class Nobilis laptops in small groups, they researched historical figures from Shakespeare’s era. They created “Farcebook” page posters for figures such as Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespearean actor Richard Burbage.

“He’s single. He’s an actor and a painter,” the students explained. “He’s friended with Shakespeare and his father owned Shore Ditch House. Richard III was his biggest role.”

The sonnets were not officially on the curriculum until Hearn had the kids write a few, and then the poetry began to flow. Themes include teen preoccupations such as vampires, video games and gamers, a love poem to a Kindle Fire and some “diss” sonnets like Autumn Jensky’s ode to her older brother: “You owe me four dollars, so you should pay!” – now appearing in the library teen room.

“They put the poetry out there and really stand by it,” said Hearn, noting that the poetry is taking a new place in standards put in place by the Language Arts and Reading Committee. Teachers are planning now to align the department’s standards to the new Common Core Curriculum, to be introduced next year. The school has just initiated MAP tests – computerized assessments that make individual curriculum recommendations for students – along with ISATs.

“The MAP tests are extremely helpful to show with each kid where they’re lacking. I can identify kids who need help and students who need books with higher lexile [reading score] levels.” Hearn says he helps the kids work collaboratively. The student sonnets were developed with critiques by peers.

“They worked with each other. Can they write in complete sentences? Can they use vocabulary better? The students are much more bold than I expected and willing to share insights in their poetry,” he said. “I was surprised about how uninhibited they were.”

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...