Poetry is elementary in G-M schools
Submitted by Nancy Meagher
A page of "A is for Avenue A," the latest literary effort to result from the work of Gill-Montague elementary art students.
TURNERS FALLS — It’s not every elementary school student who can say they are a published poet or artist. Then again, in the Gill-Montague schools, it more or less is.
A project asking elementary school students to depict their towns for the benefit of their peers across the river has been the gift that keeps on giving, producing thousands of images later joined by poems and grouped and re-grouped into a book, a collection of postcards, mugs and now a second book planned to capture the creative overflow of the previous projects.
Nancy Meagher, art teacher in the Gill and Montague elementary schools, is compiling “A is for Avenue A: the ABCs of Gill-Montague.”
In the planning stage, the effort is a kaleidoscopic poster book of children’s art strung together with a poem written by Meagher and interspersed with photographs and student poetry.
“Q is for Water Quality. Help keep our River clean. Join the Source to Sea Cleaners. Be kind to rivers and not mean,” advises Meagher’s entry for the letter Q, above a page of cans, furniture and other refuse navigated by fish, one of which exclaims “no couches!!!!”
In a year-long project last school year, the roughly 500 elementary students at the Gill Elementary School and both buildings of the Montague Elementary School produced between 2,000 and 3,000 postcard-sized drawings, Meagher said.
“We shared them across the river as a way to get to know each other by looking at little drawings of each other’s towns, and so when the year ended we were left with a huge collection of these little paintings,” Meagher said.
Meagher worked on the project with Carol Berner, a Smith College lecturer and regional coordinator for River of Words, an environmental art and poetry project in collaboration with the Connecticut River Watershed Council.
Berner conducted poetry workshops with the students in the spring to help them express in words what they had spent the school year drawing.
The poetry and images created last year have since appeared in a collection of 10 postcards and the book “A Children’s Guide to Turners Falls,” with pictures and poetry by the children accompanied by descriptions written by honors students in the University of Massachusetts art program.
Now Meagher is compiling the new book from the images and poetry appearing in the guidebook, the postcards and the even earlier “The Fish in the Polka Dot Dress,” an environmentally themed children’s story written by Meagher and illustrated by her students.
“They’re all re-mixings of the same artwork and poetry that was generated over the course of one year, just in different forms and with different angles and with different collaborators,” Berner said.
“All of these are different ways that the children’s work is getting celebrated in the community, disseminated, and so people in the community can see their towns through the children’s eyes,” Berner said.
The purpose of Berner’s watershed program is to connect children to the river and ultimately make them more aware and therefore better stewards of their environment, both natural and man-made.
“The Fish in the Polka Dot Dress” and the postcard collection were both published with grants from the Connecticut River Watershed Council and the Montague Board of Selectmen, which approved $1,000 from the Community Development Discretionary Account to publish the guidebook. The alphabet project has benefitted from Gill-Montague Education Fund support but is still in need of a publisher.
Meagher said the postcards are for sale at Loot, 62 Avenue A, and the books, postcards and mugs printed with the children’s art are for sale at the Powertown Pop Up Shop across the street at 85 Avenue A.