Sam Johnson is among top 10 poets nationwide
By B.C. Manion
Unlike many writers, Sam Johnson doesn’t wax poetic about his sources of inspiration.
Neither does he go on and on, about why he chose one particular word over another or about the decisions he made in arranging the beginning, middle and ending of his piece.
After all, he’s just 7 years old.
He didn’t even begin writing poetry until last year, in Diane Billman’s kindergarten classroom at McKitrick Elementary in Lutz.
Now, he holds the title of being among the top 10 poets in kindergarten through third-grade in the United States and Canada, according to results in a contest sponsored by Creative Communication, in Smithfield, Utah.
The young boy’s teacher is thrilled.
When she saw what he was writing, she said, “my eyes about popped out.”
“I thought, ‘My gosh. That is so advanced.’ I had goose bumps,” Billman said.
Adrienne Johnson was delighted by her son’s way with words.
“I was very surprised and very pleased. I’m very proud of him,” she said. She added that she feels very blessed that all three of her children, Mack, Amanda and Sam were able to begin their school years in Billman’s classroom.
Billman began teaching poetry to her kindergarteners two years ago.
The first crop of pupils produced such good poetry that Billman went looking online for a contest. She wound up entering the works of six of her students at poeticpower.com, sponsored by Creative Communication. All six students were published.
After teaching poetry to her class last year, Billman submitted a poem from each of her 18 students to the poetry competition. All of them were accepted for publication.
Not many teachers do as well as Billman did.
“One percent of the schools end up having all of their entries accepted,” said Tom Worthen, the editor at Creative Communication. Typically, about half of the submissions are rejected during preliminary judging.
Sam’s entry was rated among the top 10 out of roughly 2,000 entries in the kindergarten through third-grade division, said Worthen, a teacher at Utah State University.
In Sam’s case, Worthen said, “he creates some nice imagery. The rhythm is good.”
Creative Communication has been working with teachers and students for more than 18 years, striving to encourage good writing, Worthen said. “We deal with children’s hopes and dreams.”
The goal of Creative Communication’s contests are “to be selective enough that it’s an honor, but not so selective that it’s discouraging,” the editor said.
Billman believes encouragement will help a writer, at any level, to improve.
She did some research before beginning to teach poetry and followed the advice of an expert to start by using real objects to help stimulate creative thought.
“We started looking at things like rocks and leaves and feathers and seashells,” Billman said. “We felt them and we described them to get their juices going.
“I gave them little pieces of paper and I told them that was their poem notebook, and that if they had an idea to jot it down. So, we worked from that.”
The poetry lessons were somewhat laborious, Billman said.
“Every day, they would try to work on an idea. We spent at least a month on it. We worked on it daily, for 30 minutes,” she said.
She would begin with a group lesson and then the students would write, independently. She made her way about the room, conferring with individual students. At the end of each lesson, they’d share.
Billman said she’d remind students that the path to good writing is practice.
“It doesn’t matter where you are. Wherever you are, you’re going to get better,” the teacher said.
Besides earning recognition and publication, Sam received a free book and $25 to purchase a $50 U.S. Savings Bond.
Sam will be 17 when that bond matures and he already has plans for the money, his mom said.
“He’s such a giving little boy, he says to me: ‘I’m going to be rich when I’m 17. I’m going to be able to help you pay the taxes,’ ” Adrienne Johnson said.
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