Coffee, creativity found in class

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 12, 2006

In the 50s and 60s, coffeehouses popped up across the country. These small, cozy spots offered a jolt of java and a generous helping of original poetry and music, read and performed by their creators.

Fast forward to 2006 and Bess Nordgren's classroom at Fort Dale Academy.

Grimy beatniks in black have been replaced by clean-cut teens in polo shirts and khakis. Folks clap their hands in appreciation rather than snapping their fingers.

However, there is still plenty of good coffee to be had in a cozy room that glows with mini-lights and flickering candles.

And the writing? It still comes from the heart and soul.

Welcome to the Third Annual FDA Coffeehouse, the brainchild of Nordgren, who teaches English Composition classes at the school.

&#8220I wanted to give the students a chance to share what they've written here in class with their parents, grandparents and others who can come and join us during the two days of the coffeehouse,” Nordgren said.

Students contribute more than their poetry and essays. They also are in charge of the finger foods and room decorations during the event.

&#8220This is truly our sharing time,” their teacher said.

Nordgren's class focuses solely on writing, all of which is done in the classroom.

&#8220There are no tests and no homework. They just have to be ready to write while they are here. We are so fortunate to have composition classes as a requirement here at Fort Dale.”

The fruits of the composition students' labor can be seen on the walls of the classroom, where Nordgren has posted their essays and poems, the products of the various writing assignments given to her students this year.

There were funny pieces, and poignant ones. The students shared stories about favorite childhood haunts, the special smell of grandma's house, hunting trips with friends. They wrote of their love for everything from a particular sports team, to an adored older brother.

Each of the 10th-12th grade students had the opportunity to read two of his or her pieces during the annual coffeehouse.

Michelle Hulick shared her love of softball in one essay. In another work, she recalled taking turns with her sister as &#8220Queen of the Dirt Hill” during the building of the family's log house in rural Butler County.

&#8220That dirt hill created the foundation for our new home, a place I came to love,” Hulick recalled.

Matthew Heartsill shared an amusing essay on his favorite color, blue, while Andrew Jones described how an old and well-worn fan shirt was part of what inspired his unfailing commitment to the Crimson Tide.

&#8220We've asked Andrew to think ‘outside the box' for some of these assignments…he has really stretched himself to do this, we are proud of him,” Nordgren said.

Haydon Brown shared the close friendship between the four Brown sisters, age 14 months to 15 years. Brown's wry recollections of struggling to learn to ride a bike &#8220brought that all back for all of us,” Nordgren said with a smile and a nod of approval.

Haley Blackburn's essay described her older (by ten months) brother, and fellow Nordgren student, Caleb, as a best friend who always has &#8220an explanation and a solution for me.”

Nordgren provides a syllabus at the beginning of each nine-week period, detailing the assignments the students will have.

&#8220All of the writing is done right here in our classroom…there are no tests or homework assignments. It's all about learning how to write – no diagramming sentences – and I love it,” Nordgren said.

During the coffeehouse, each student is graded on selection, appearance, eye contact, voice tone, explanation of inspiration and bringing a guest to the event.

In addition to their poems and essays, Nordgren's composition students also assemble children's books they will share with FDA's kindergartners at the end of the school year.

&#8220If your kids tell you later on, ‘I've been cutting and coloring and pasting in Miss Bess' class,' that's because we are putting those books together,” Nordgren told parents as she pointed out the brightly colored volumes on display around the room.

&#8220What fun my job is. I cry, I get witnessed to, I get entertained by these children…it's wonderful,” the teacher said.