Clusters of children sit gathered on the hardwood floor, peering up at the painted canvases before them with notebooks in hand. Abstract impressionist Mark Rothko’s work stood spread out on the white walls, bringing depth to the room with overwhelmingly saturated colors.
LAUSD’s Beyond The Bell Migrant Education Program found inspiration for their poetry in the abstract paintings and sculptures during a class trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art on July 1.
The federally funded program serves children of migrant workers with additional support on curriculum already provided by the district like math, science, and language arts, according to the Beyond The Bell website. This summer, students in fourth grade through high school are taking poetry classes through the Migrant Education Program.
“[Poetry] has helped me be more confident to overcome my fears of talking in front of a large crowd,” 10-year-old Erick Avila said.
Poetry teacher and entrepreneur Tina Demirdjian said her goal for her students in each class is to learn new skills and strengthen the abilities they already have.
Avila said the Migrant Education Program helps him succeed in his regular classes at school because some of the program’s objectives align with his curriculum.
A key part of Demirdjian’s lessons is having students write and present their poems in front of their classmates, she said.
“I teach how to edit a poem to make it more powerful,” she said. “[The students] get to learn how to create a language to help present their poem.”
The students are usually hesitant to stand in front of the classroom and share their writing, especially the older students, as their poetry tends to be more personal, Demirdjian said.
“I feel like there’s no shame anymore,” said 12-year-old Yanira, “Since I know there will be no judgment I feel like, why bother to hide?”
By practicing public speaking, the students gain more self-confidence each time, Demirdjian said.
“I noticed one boy — in the beginning, he was disruptive. Now he’s one of the ones who likes writing, reading, and will get up to teach the lesson,” Demirdjian said.
At MOCA, the students presented their poems on whichever Rothko painting spoke to them the most — an exercise that the program has helped them work on before in class.
The students were louder reciting their poems in the hushed gallery, as opposed to earlier when they shared other poems outside over the noise of nearby construction workers while their teacher stood close by, coaching them on how to project their voice and enunciate.
“The paintings sometimes speak to you even though you don’t know what to expect from it,” said Yanira. “This is my first time coming here… It was really amazing.”
Yanira took her own perspective on a black and white painting featuring a man with crossed arms, comparing him to God.
“It felt very powerful,” she said. “I wrote that he’s mad because his creation isn’t working that well and sometimes he may cry because of it.”