Classroom of the Week: Women writers of Monument Mountain empowered to speak up and out

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WEST STOCKBRIDGE — For the past five years, under the encouragement and organization of Monument Mountain Regional High School's Lisken Van Pelt Dus, the English Department faculty have been working together to bring their best young women writers forward.

Last Friday marked the fifth annual "Monument Girls Write On!" Held at the meeting house of the West Stockbridge Historical Society, the event gave families and community members an open invitation into the teenage heart and soul.

This year's 10 selected readers included: senior Sophie Cohen; juniors Celia Armstrong, Stella Bellow, Autumn Duke, Sheila Francisco, Alyssa Mack and Theresa Russell; sophomore Hunter Harvey; and freshmen Phaedra Duhon and Oliver Maldonado.

The nominations to share their selections of poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction and/or vignettes came from Van Pelt Dus and her colleagues Tara Birkett, Emery Gagnon, Holly Freadman, Michael Mooney, Michael Rosenthal and Jolyn Unruh.

The event wasn't merely a get up, read and pass the mic program, but one that thoughtfully honored each participant as a young writer of distinct merit. Van Pelt Dus, Mooney and Rosenthal shared the role of introducing each reader, careful to include details about their personalities, interests, and styles of work.

In her welcome, Van Pelt Dus said it was her honor and privilege to "share the riches of imagination, creativity and hard work" that the readers embodied.

"These girls are amazing," she said.

Indeed, each person read with conviction and confidence and passion the words they carefully curated to describe innermost feelings and keen observations of the world revolving around them. Themes carried between caution and fear, self-loathing and self-help, gender identity, love and divorce, dystopia, age, addiction, curiosity and motivation.

Partway through the ceremony, English teacher Michael Rosenthal broke away from the program to highlight Van Pelt Dus. An accomplished poet in her own right, she joined Monument's English and World Languages departments in 2005, and has since taken on numerous leadership roles and projects. She's actively involved in getting her students involved in the national Poetry Out Loud program, and also the Berkshire Festival Of Women Writers.

"She's an Olympian for the arts in this community," Rosenthal said.

Junior Celia Armstrong, who did the last reading of the evening, delivered a powerful statement on how finding support and a creative outlet through school programs and faculty has helped her overcome the risks of growing up in a gang member and drug filled neighborhood in Pittsfield.

She said the challenges and judgements from her peers have given her the internal "motivation to work hard and push toward my goals."

But Armstrong said she and her peers also benefit from the teachers who encourage and help young people like them achieve their goals and dreams. She said, "Having someone who believes in us make all the difference in the world."

Excerpts from the 2017 "Monument Girls Write On!"

"Sometimes our safety can be our danger."

— "The Cow's Future," a cautionary work of creative nonfiction by Sheila Francisco

"You should check in with the moon sometime, even if she hasn't checked in with you."

— "The Moon," a poem by Hunter Harvey

"Crows know many things, but about dead things they know the most."

— "Shadow on Bones," a vignette by Autumn Duke

"I was never born to hate myself ... fill her with confidence, an actual meal for once."

— "An Ode to my Guts on the Floor," a poem by Theresa Russell

"Even a lake has an inlet and an outlet. People flow in and out of your life like water."

— "Purple," a fictional work by Sophie Cohen

"Love is merely a chemical reaction ... with the potential to create chemical warfare."

— "An Anatomically Correct Love Letter: the Heart is Not Responsible for Us Falling in Love," a poem by Oliver Maldonado

"Someday I wish to be surrounded by thyme."

— "Cemetery," a work of creative nonfiction by Stella Bellow

"Anxiety seeps into your nerves like bleach on dark fabric."

— "Chaos," a poem by Alyssa Mack

"She's a creature beyond flimsy titles like a name."

— "Beautiful," a fictional work by Phaedra Duhon

"Just because your environment is the way it is, doesn't mean you have to be a hamster stuck in the loop."

— "Breaking the Ties that Bind You," a work of creative nonfiction by Celia Armstrong

NOMINATE A "CLASSROOM OF THE WEEK"

Please submit the following information to jsmith@berkshireeagle.com or "Classroom of the Week," c/o The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201:

Your first and last name:

Email:

Phone number:

School name:

School phone number:

Teacher's name and grade/class title:

Principal's name:

Why this classroom's students and teacher deserve to be recognized:

Nominations will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis.


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