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Many of the students in Anthony Jacobs' English class at Central High School have had their share of struggles.
Some have been labeled, "reluctant learners." But poetry helped unlock their voices -- and stories.
In their 10th-grade poetry class, the students wrote poems about nature, dreams, nightmares and survival. But the words didn't come easily.
First, students got to know each other and gained confidence in class discussions about ethnicity, religion and gender among many other topics.
Marea Walker, who describes herself as an introvert, but found herself talking in the sometimes intense discussions.
"Before this class I didn't write at all," said Marea, 15. "I like to write, but I don't write. But like, this class encouraged us to write our thoughts out and kind of talk about it more instead of like keeping it in."
She and her classmates are now published poets.
Jacobs obtained a $2,000 grant from the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation to create a hard-bound book containing the poems of 44 students.
Jacobs and fellow teacher Jesse Kwakenat, worked with two student teachers, St. Catherine University English professor Susan Welch and St. Paul artist Nicole Smith to help the students learn about poetry and refine their performance skills.
When the 87-page collection "I'm Done Running" was published recently, there was a book launch, author signing event and a public reading in front of family and friends.
Among the most moving was a poem by Devarius Terrell, who wrote about his family's homelessness.
"My Mom broke down in tears.
That's Still an Image that will be
Always in my mind."
Every time someone cried in the shelter, the whole shelter
One day I walked into the school restroom.
I started washing my hands and looked up in a
I notice that I had something on my face.
For Devarius, the poem was cathartic. After writing it, he said, he felt great.
"Sometimes confronting your pain can be the best painkiller," he writes in its final line.
In 13 years of teaching, Jacob, 39, has found that some of his most challenging students embrace poetry over text books and research papers.
"If they meet a project that smells like an essay or ... anything that involves sort of the standard English curriculum or a textbook," he said, "you've lost them at that point."
But writing poems about nature, dreams, nightmares and other topics close to their hearts appealed to the teenagers.
In her poem, "Freedom," Matiana Arnold expresses her wish to look beyond her family tragedies toward a more hopeful future.
"What about how strong and supportive my family was during my brother's passing?
& how we got through it, together?
What about all the blessings I've been
receiving? One, after another. ..."
The collection of poems is full of stories that reflect the student body at Central -- one of the most diverse in the state.
More than a fourth of school's nearly 1,900 students have are of Asian heritage, nearly a third are African-American and about 6 percent are Latino.
Phong Le, who came to the United States from Viet Nam two years ago, said the class discussion was a great introduction to the country.
"I learned a lot from everybody in this class," he said. "I mean it makes me feel like I'm part of something bigger."
The poem "Home," reflects Eh K. Hser's reaction to his escape from his war-torn homeland of Myanmar also known as Burma. His family fled the ethnic fighting there.
"Dear my Karen people," he writes, "don't lose hope."
He wrote how the fighting caused him to be full of hate and forget about love. But his poem ends with his vision for a better future for the Karen people in a place where there is no war or tears but where there is happiness, "a place where we can call home."