January 17, 2016 Hope Scibal

Declamations are Like Wonder Bread

Musings from the Head of School
by Penny Work

I know that I am dating myself here.

This time of year, I always remember an old Wonder Bread ad from tv ages ago. In it, we watched a progression of images of a small child growing into a confident teenager. Through the snippets we understand the passage of time; the little apple-cheeked toddler grows into a fresh-faced young adult biting into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on that iconic fluffy bread, and the ad ends with the slogan: “Wonder Bread builds strong bodies eight ways!”

February is Declamations month at Grymes, and each week our all-school assembly will feature a new class of students from Kindergarten through seventh grade as they perform the incredible feat of standing on stage and reciting by heart in front of an audience of family, friends, teachers and peers the poem that they have chosen. We start with the Kindergartners, and we are all awed by the poise and, well, sheer bravery that these young students summon in this important moment in their young lives. By the time we get to the seventh graders at the end of February, Declamations are truly a performance art. Poems have grown in length from the short, rhythmic lines of the Kindergarten Declamations to the lengthy, sophisticated selections of the seventh graders, who have explored poetry in English classes and taken the time to find just the piece that speaks to them. Of course, the capstone to the Declamation tradition is the Eighth Grade Speech. Rather than recite a poem, every eighth grade student presents a speech that they have written on a topic of great importance to him or her. These talks, which are written and revised and practiced diligently, are inevitably a very moving, personal piece that captures the individuality of each student.

To me, watching the progression of children perform each week is like watching that old Wonder Bread ad, and the slogan that plays in my head is: “Grymes grows confident, capable speakers in ten years!”

Each year I marvel to see the progression of our students as they grow in size, confidence and maturity on stage. I love that we have kept this special tradition that promotes public speaking and that helps kids take for granted that everyone is simply expected to share their voice. It is a process. It is a journey. It is a challenge. And what an incredible gift it is – the confidence to speak up and be heard – the pride in accomplishment – the expectation that everyone will take the stage as students move on to the next level of their education.

Just like Wonder Bread, that’s something we all can sink our teeth into!

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