As promised, for this blog post, I will let my students speak. I teach sixth grade at a public charter middle school on Cape Cod. I have 84 students in my ELA classes. They cycle through in groups of 14 this year, sitting in beach chairs on the classroom floor as stiff breezes scatter leaves through the open doors. They huddle in their pompom hats and, occasionally, blankets. Half of their learning happens at home asynchronously, and for the other half we do the best we can, feeling fortunate for our time together and for balmy fall days.

The poems I am sharing are the culminating project for a monthlong study of the Wampanoag and English settlers around the time of the first Thanksgiving. We’ve finished the research paper and talked about poetry tools, and now they sit down to write. I chose poetry for this unit because I believe students can take their research and their explorations and dig into a deeper place of empathy with poetry. They choose a historical figure, either Wampanoag or English, and write a version of an ode to the person’s life. I ask them to explore their person’s internal and external motivations. I challenge them to be a writer who weaves in sensory details to take us into the world and experiences of this person. In the end, they must also consider how their person would want to be remembered.

This year, some reporters came to look at our work. I’ll put the links in here. The students were great. They remained focused, ignoring the cameras and lights and getting to work. They’ve had lots of distractions in their learning environments this year. Maybe this was just another interruption, maybe not even the biggest one, and they’ve developed an ability to tune it all out. I am glad that their hard work was noticed, regardless.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyW2bpUSrOE

https://apnews.com/article/thanksgiving-students-truth-complex-90f5d1b599eeb1b6c3a15bec2cc781fd

I’m very proud of the final poems my students write and delighted to share them here. I hope you enjoy them and appreciate how deeply they have come to know this history, and how much good work we can do in the teaching of history if we are open to new approaches and willing to address the harder truths of the past. It’s work that we can all do in our classroom, and I encourage others to commit to lessons and experiences that rebalance the narrative in our schools.

Weetamoo

I gaze at the angered waters of the river

And then back up at the dull blue sky

It would have been pretty if my fate was unknown

I smell the familiar smells twirling and dancing 

with the ugly smell of gunpowder

The sloshing water echos in my ears

Attempting to block out the thunder of my chase

It was cold

The water was cold, like the English.

I squinted my eyes shut

and prayed to see the warm months of summer

To see the younglings eating Strawberries in June

And the sun staining the fresh ears of corn.

I fear the newcomers

 who we falsely perceived to be helpful

But the river sweeps that fear away

As it begins to sweep me away

I remember the awful things they did to my husband

And our people

When Ousamequin was the strongest of men

Now the English are

But they rule with fear

Ousamequin ruled with loyalty.

I worry the river has swept our culture away

That it will push it down to the point of no return like it has me

I try to breathe in but I choke

At least I’m not breathing 

 the infections and gunpowder the English reek of

But I don’t breathe anyways.

The river should of saved me, I could be safe on the other side

But I hit rock bottom now

The side is too far away to reach for

My chest hurts 

I try to breathe another breath

But it seems as though my last breath  has already been used

I hope my people keep the culture I lived in till my final moments

I hope it doesn’t fade away like me.

Squanto Poem

Today, I sit in this place

Speaking for my chief, Osamequin

Speaking for him to these new men

These settlers

I sit here and study the village

I can smell the men’s wives cooking dinner in their huts

I can hear them clanging the pots and pans as they cook, nervous

Our presence gives them fear

Funny

Their presence does the same

I reach out and touch the wall of a hut

Rough. Uncomfortable. Bleak.

The same can be said for the newcomer’s clothes

None of the soft deerskin we use

Rough. Uncomfortable. Bleak.

I sit here, pretending to be calm

Being kind out of fear 

Knowing that they might do it again

They might take me again

And that this time 

I might not be so lucky

I remember the ship

The creaking

The port

The weeping

They took us

We shouted at them, we wanted to go back

I was lucky that time

The others

Not so much

I  worry that my people no longer trust me

I have been gone too long

Gone to Europe

Gone to the murderers

Gone to the kidnappers 

They do not trust me

When I am gone

I wish that my people would know

Know that I was loyal

That I was true

That I never stopped trying to come back

That I was Wampanoag

William Bradford

I can hear the birds singing their song.

Winter has killed half of us.

As I write, I can smell a horrible smell everywhere.

There is no wind to blow away the awful smell. 

I feel my hardwood table.

I feel the grain of the wood.

The wood that I write on.

I feel my cold pen

Telling history in words.

We are scared. 

We can barely cling to survival.

The Indians could be dangerous.

They could attack at any moment if we don’t keep the peace.

I remember when we were in England. I remember when I was little. 

When my parents were still alive in Austerfield.

When we were not allowed to practice our religion.

Was this the right choice?

I worry for our colony.

We worry of our state.

We could starve.

Our get attacked.

I worry we will be brushed to the side, like dirt on the ground.

I want to be remembered as a writer.

A man that kept the peace.

Someone who stood with his beliefs.

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