March is National Women’s Month, and the Gargoyle found four women who are making history in our community by making a difference.

By Danielle Marsh |

Fourth-grader McKenna* is able to express herself in ways she never thought possible thanks to Flagler College English Professor Kim Bradley.

Bradley teaches poetry two days a week to fourth and fifth graders from Southwoods Elementary School. The students come to the St. Johns County Recreational Department in Hastings where Bradley invents creative ways for the children to express themselves through poetry.

“I thought I was going to come out and teach poetry and just go home,” Bradley said. “I had absolutely no idea that I would become so attached to these kids.”

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When Bradley started, the students had no idea what a poem was. So she used magnetic poetry to show them how poems are formed.

“They were able to see a poem just happen right there,” Bradley said.

To encourage students to share their work, Bradley has set up a microphone with a speaker. In the beginning, the students were hesitant to share their work, but now they can’t stop. Bradley has had to limit the students’ time in front of the microphone because they cannot stop sharing.

“Usually we cannot get Janesha to put her notebook down,” Bradley said. “Were like, ‘Alright, just two poems — that’s it.’ ”

Bradley has also started a Web site to post poems the students wrote. The site has spurred the students’ enthusiasm for writing because they are able to see their work online and share it with others. Bradley is working on getting a podcast for the students to air their work online.

When it comes to Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test, Bradley is confident that writing poetry regularly will put the students ahead.

“I know these kids are going to be better writers just because they are writing poems…and they are working the writing muscle in their brain, and they’ve got it,” Bradley said.

Since Bradley started working at the recreational department in September 2007, she says the students have made great strides and have become attached to her.

“Sometimes they’ll write poems for me, or they’ll say, ‘Oh, here, I wrote this,’ ” Bradley said.

She wants her students to be “confident” and “to have a voice,” and Bradley says she sees this with the high school kids who are now becoming part of her poetry class. She always tells them they’ve got something to say, which is where the title of her blog comes in.

When working with the magnetic poetry one of the students wrote out “Juice Up The True Say.” Bradley questioned its meaning and the student responded by saying, “Cough up the truth.” Which, according to Bradley, is what writing is all about.

“I’m hoping it enriches their lives,” Bradley said. “[Poetry] gives them a confident voice.”

The St. Johns County Recreational Department also has other activities set up for the students. Five days a week, children from Southwoods Elementary participate in a grant-funded arts enrichment after-school program. At the center, students are able to take classes in dance, pottery, music, art, poetry, and are able to get help on homework.

As the high school kids are now interacting with the elementary children and reading their poems together, Bradley finds this promising and thinks it might have a snowball effect.

“I see doing this indefinitely, I can’t imagine not doing it,” Bradley said. “I want to see what they have to say. I’m so attached to them that I just have to keep coming back.”

*Last name omitted due to age.

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