Editor's Note: Arkansas PBS has just released two new courses for teachers in its ArkansasIDEAS portal, "Teaching to Close the Opportunity Gap: Let Them Know" (ELB19071) and "Coaching Self-Expression: Go In, Poet" (ELB20007). Educator Stacy Pendergrast gives some background on these courses that focus on the work of Stacey McAdoo, 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.
- Nikki Giovanni, “You Came, Too”
I met Stacey McAdoo and her entire family in May 2018 on a day when I needed a crowd to show up. Maybe the sun and the bursting flowers on that Saturday were too much competition for those who’d signed up for my haiku workshop in a local park. Only seven students had taken their seat in my teaching circle — and one of them, a box turtle, lived in the park.
But the McAdoos show up for poetry, and they were in my class.
In our first freewriting exercise, Stacey quietly jotted on her paper. Leron was the first to share his “draft” haiku. He stood and read a half-dozen poems that echoed in the spring air. He held up one that he’d embedded in a graphic sketch, what haiku artists call a haiga.
- Leron McAdoo
“Wow — How did you do that?” I asked.
“I’m a poet,” he said, and gestured to his family. “We been doin’ this a while,” he said, and laughed.
Previously, in a café poetry night, I’d seen The Writeous, the poetry and arts youth collective that Stacey and Leron had founded and sponsored. But I didn’t know much about them. I didn’t know that two of them, Norel and Jamee McAdoo, Stacey and Leron’s kids, were national standouts in the spoken-word world.
During the haiku class, Norel mentioned that The Writeous was holding their end-of-year slam celebration that afternoon. “Would you like to buy tickets?” he asked politely. The event was at the Thea Foundation in North Little Rock.
When my husband, Paul, and I walked into that teeming theater — maybe a crowd of 200 teenagers and parents filling every chair and aisle space — I wondered if we were in the right place. How could poetry fill an auditorium on a Saturday afternoon?
The poets spoke to their people, sometimes in solo, and sometimes in small, orchestrated groups. The poets waxed about the things poets wax about: crushes and broken hearts, obsessions and missed moments, the surges and flutters one can feel. Some broke into song. With each performance, the kids in the crowd howled and high-fived. They shouted, “Eat ‘em up!” and “Feed me!” with rapid spoon-to-mouth gestures. This out-frenzied any pep rally I’d ever been to. I couldn’t help but stand and cheer, too.
I noticed Stacey on the side, beaming like a proud mama.
“How do they do it?” I asked Paul. I’d just retired from a long teaching career in public schools. I’d been a poetry club advisor, and maybe a pretty good one, but I’d never been able to engage kids in this way. I knew the McAdoos were doing something extraordinary.
I wasn’t surprised when Stacey McAdoo was named the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year. When I got a job at Arkansas PBS, it wasn’t hard to convince my supervisor, Liz Rollans, an English teacher, that we had to decrypt the McAdoo magic. We needed to figure out what Stacey did in her classroom, and then share that with Arkansas teachers.
Eric White, Arkansas PBS video producer of Teaching to Close the Opportunity Gap: Let Them Know spent over 80 hours with Stacey and her students. He lugged his cameras from her trailer classroom at Little Rock Central High School to Writeous events across the state. Eric caught Stacey coaching her students in the private, behind-the-scenes exchanges that make the difference in teaching. When asked about his experience keeping up with Stacey, he said, “I never had a teacher quite like Ms. Mac, but I wish I had. Her inspiration is contagious, and I always found myself more inspired after leaving her classroom.” In this course, Eric and I aimed to capture Stacey’s guiding principles in action.
Producer Claret Collins, assisted by production crew extraordinaire Anita Grote, filmed Stacey in one-on-one scenes that are the focus of Coaching Self-Expression: Go In, Poet. In this one-hour course, we hoped to capture some nitty-gritty strategies that Stacey uses as she encourages writers to raise their voices.
Claret commented, “Ms. McAdoo’s students all expressed how she always goes above and beyond to make sure that everyone feels included and has the tools that they need to succeed. After working with Ms. McAdoo, I can attest to that. She is a beautiful human being, and I hope that these courses can do justice to her light!”
I’m professionally and personally so happy I found Stacey McAdoo in the crowd. Arkansas teachers, we hope you join us in these courses that probe deeply into the art, heart, and soul of a teacher-sage.
Stacy Pendergrast, an education and instruction specialist at Arkansas PBS, is also a seasoned haiku poet and teaching artist. She earned her Master of Education from Rutgers University and a Master of Fine Arts from Chatham University.