Peace Maker Spotlight
Paul W. Hankins & the
Orange One Group (English 11)
Peace Maker Spotlight Honoree
Paul W. Hankins & the Orange One Group
Mattie said we must “live peace” and we must “make peace a habit — something that is a part of our everyday words and actions, at home and at school and at work and in the community.”
English teacher Paul W. Hankins doesn’t quite know how or when he first learned about Mattie’s poetry and peace message. What he does know for sure is that sharing Mattie’s poetry and peace message has been a part of his students’ learning process since he first began teaching nearly a decade ago.
Paul has made inspiring an appreciation for “human connections” a personal goal for his students, especially those in his “Orange One Group” English 11 class at Silver Creek High School. Through the study of written and spoken word, and through creative activities that support students in exploring these arts as tools for human connections and peace, Mattie’s vision for interacting with others and with our world in a gentle way is being celebrated.
Now, as we celebrate individuals and groups who share peace through poetry and the performing arts, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation honors Paul W. Hankins and the Orange One Group (English 11) as our Peace Maker Spotlight Honorees for our April-May post.
Below are Paul’s responses
to our interview questions.
What would you like to share about yourself?
This Peace Maker Spotlight honor celebrates the 2012-2013 Orange One Group (English 11) at Silver Creek High School in Indiana. I am Mr. Paul W. Hankins, a teacher who has the pleasure of leading this amazing group of young people.
I teach more than 150 students this year in a “Block 8 Schedule.” This means I see groups of students every other day. The focus group for this Spotlight feature (Orange One – English 11) has twenty students in all.
The Orange One Group has a multitude of talents that include music, theater, art, reading, and computer programming. Within the group we have a drum major, and a young actor who has performed professionally outside of Silver Creek High School with multiple theater groups.
Throughout April – National Poetry Month – our lessons include exploring peace through poetry, and learning more about the performing arts as a tool for peace.
Some of the Orange One Group students are seasoned performers already, though few may actually see themselves as poets, or even as performing poets for that matter. For many others in the group, this will be their very first foray into spoken word and performance poetry. But they are all earnest in their early approach to this project, which is very exciting.
We will be drafting many poetic pieces during the month. And when these pieces come to fruition, we will be sharing those drafts to be posted on Mattie’s website!
What do you enjoy about teaching?
I love opportunities such as this when teaching — opportunities that enable us to move beyond the walls of our classroom, and to make the acquaintance of the larger world outside of Silver Creek High School. This is something I was not able to do myself as a student. And honestly, I found a world outside of high school for which I was not prepared — and I sensed that the world was not prepared for me.
I don’t know if this answers the question about “what I enjoy about teaching” the way I might have answered if we were sitting down over a cup of coffee, but I think this is really it.
Teaching is about making connections with kids where the leading paradigm of the day suggests that connections are something limited to the latest technology. And so much of that kind of connection is done effortlessly with a few pushes of some buttons and a cable or two.
But human connection! Now… human connection takes a little more effort. I like teaching as it is a part of this effort of human connection. One of my goals is to impress upon my students the necessity of connection – human connection.
Tell us about teaching poetry and peace.
The students in the Orange One Group are enrolled in a course called English 11. As their teacher, I would like to publicly commend this group for their openness to the experience of exploring poetry, performing art, and peace from the very beginning.
This group just finished reading R. J. Palacio’s “WONDER.” Our thoughts are now centered on “how to make the world a little more inclusive and a little more peaceful for all people.” We are going to continue to explore some of the sentiments that were drawn from us during our reading of “WONDER” and apply them to the poetic pieces we will be writing as part of this next experience.
We already flooded the room with spoken word poets and poetry, even before going on Spring Break during late March. We were able to share the new Shane Koyczan poem — “To This Day” — that has been making the social media rounds, and I have seen students responding to poetry in ways that were not happening from the traditional textbook approach.
As part of our non-fiction reading experience that goes along with this unit, we will not only view “BULLY,” but we also will be sharing “Louder than a Bomb” – a documentary that follows schools in Chicago as students prepare for an annual poetry competition.
The students in the Orange One Group are definitely moving into a poetic frame of mind. I have seen students this year respond openly and earnestly to pieces we have shared in class already. And, I have students requesting more poems by particular poets.
By taking a fresh look at poetry each year, we not only get to know one another better, but we also get to know our world a little better by using the written word.
How do you introduce peace into your lessons?
Early on, I like to impress upon my students that it is really not possible to dislike — or hate – poetry and still be tuned into the music that makes up so much of what they do and who they are.
I like to start off by introducing them to poets that I know they have not been introduced to yet. And Mattie J.T. Stepanek is one of these poets, who is also a peer. My copies of Mattie’s Heartsongs poetry books are well-read, and well-worn.
Some of my students’ favorite “Mattie poems” are the poems in which Mattie addresses the memory of his brother, Jamie, who died when they were little boys. I think these poems are particularly touching to our students. And I think Mattie’s introduction of the topic works well with the George Ella Lyon “Where I Am From” writing invitation we do in class.
How did you learn about Mattie and our Foundation?
I have been sharing Mattie’s poetry with my students since I first began teaching in the fall of 2004. Honestly, I am not really sure where or how I first heard about Mattie or his series of Heartsongs poetry books. What I do know is that Mattie’s love of poetry, and his message and peace and purpose that are shared through his Heartsongs collections, have always been a part of my teaching practice.
The students in my classes always want to know more about Mattie and his life. The year that Jeni Stepanek interacted with the students during a Skype “Peace & Book Chat” was great. She answered so many questions about Mattie’s life about his writing. The students were really able to relate to him as a peer — as a teen much like them.
I think there is something lasting — a legacy, if you will — in Mattie’s poetry, that is balanced with the brevity of the life he would know here on earth. This gives the poetry a sense of urgency.
Mattie’s poetry is a reminder that we all need to slow down a bit and to take time to appreciate what is right here and right now. This can be particularly important for juniors-to-become-seniors, with a focus upon what is coming next.
Any other thoughts you would like to share?
We often talk about what makes Room 407 (where Orange One Group gathers) special and why being in the room is special. This can be a hard sell when you are really just another space in this larger entity called “school.” But the films and books and pieces and projects we share as a part of learning lead us to unique conversations – conversations our students probably do not have singularly or as a group without this focus on human connections.
I think this group really prides themselves on being recognized. This is something only their block is doing and I think they really like this. I know they are excited to begin drafting, revising, rehearsing, and ultimately performing their pieces for National Poetry Month, and sharing them with Mattie’s Foundation.
Recognition as Spotlight Peace Makers is an honor for us! Really, to be recognized by the Foundation that represents and carries forth the work begun by Mattie J.T. Stepanek — this is something we want to go into with a since of pride tempered with a sense of humility.
As we work through our pieces together for the next month, Mattie and Mattie’s work will be on and within our collective minds and hearts. To know that the work we do is being featured as a part of Mattie’s Foundation makes the work we are doing seem all that more real than a traditional classroom poetry unit.
Thank you, Paul and
the Orange One Group,
for being Peace Makers.
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