Found poems displayed in MHS lobby exemplify inclusive excellence messages

Tanya Keskar | The Chronicle

Mason High School (MHS) staff became poets as they captured the essence of inclusive excellence through powerful prose.

On the October Professional Development Day, students had a day to guide their learning while the MHS staff had the opportunity to reflect on Inclusive Excellence (IE) in the school district by composing found poems. A found poem is an art piece created entirely by words and phrases from a specific piece of text. These poems are displayed in the MHS lobby for students and staff to continue to take inspiration from.

Shawna Parkinson and Aaron Roberts are Learning Experience Designers; they play big roles in organizing professional learning for the staff at MHS. Parkinson said that this professional development day was focused on helping staff implement inclusive excellence principles in the school environment.

“We’re all committed to the work of everyone feeling like they belong and they’re part of our community,” Parkinson said.

To foster this community of acceptance, Mason City Schools has established three “Big Rocks” that guide the vision of the school, which are culture, inclusive excellence and personalized learning. Detailed guides have been in development for all three rocks, and after over a year of development, the IE guide was released, reflecting the recent focus on inclusive excellence in the school district. Roberts said a goal of the found poems was to create a positive relationship between students and teachers.

“I think it’s valuable for our students to see the adults that they are amongst as learners,” Roberts said. “They’re engaged in their own personal growth. Our teachers are imperfect human beings who are learning and growing along with everybody else in our community in our society.”

Through this experience, the staff had the opportunity to share their work with the students of MHS. MHS Guidance Counselor Megan Pay composed a found poem based on the IE guide with counselors Sally Clark, Phyllis Bell and Linda Dumstroff. Pay said that she valued the time focused on reading and reflecting on the IE guide.

“Sometimes I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of things that sometimes I don’t take a step back,” Pay said. “I appreciate that it allowed for space for us to just sit and absorb and then put it in our own words.”

Pay said that she appreciates this focus for teachers to incorporate IE in the district.

“As a community, we’re growing in multiple aspects,” Pay said. “We’re growing in numbers; we’re growing in diversity. We’re being intentional about creating more inclusive workplaces for our students and staff.”

Over the past year, Pay said that her goal has been to be more intentional about creating “Safe Spaces” for students, putting up stickers that display the status in classrooms. While these actions may seem small, they are aimed at letting students know that there is someone in the building they can talk to, helping contribute to creating an inclusive culture at the school.

“As a counselor, it’s something that is already ingrained in the work that we do,” Pay said. “I’m trying to create an inclusive and equitable environment, making sure that our students feel safe in the building, making sure that their voices feel heard.”

Junior Lillian Wang had the opportunity to write a found poem for viewers to take inspiration from. One of Wang’s teachers connected her to the Learning Experience Designers after hearing about her experience writing poetry.

“Poetry is usually where I start my ideas,” Wang said. “It’s really a very emotional process, and connecting that to the IE guide, reading through the IE guide as a student, it felt so good knowing that teachers were working hard to make sure that Mason is a place where all students can grow, thrive and achieve their own definition of excellence in life.”

Wang’s poem is centered around the idea that ”your story matters” — that idea that every student should feel valued and supported. 

“‘Your Story Matters’ is such a big part of Mason, and I really want it to become an even bigger part of Mason because I think each student deserves to know that they are valued and that they have the ability to become whatever they want to be,” Wang said. “It made me both valued and very proud to be a student at Mason.”

Wang said to create this inclusive environment, individuals have to focus on connecting with and understanding other people.

“You have to open your mind,” Wang said. “[You] also have to open your heart. Feeling and understanding as a person, having that empathy.”

Parkinson said these poems reflect the staff voice of Mason High School, and the effort put towards cultivating an inclusive culture at the school.

“Every time I walk by those found poems, I stop, pause and look again,” Parkinson said. “It really just makes a statement that this is who [we] are.”

Graphics by Nishka Mishra