Last Wednesday, ACES of Fox Lane High School celebrated its annual Coffee House poetry and music event at 175 Railroad Road with guest slam poet, Zork. Lead ACES teacher Rhonda Doctor said, “This is the culminating act of the English unit,” and breathes life into art that usually dies somewhere between a student’s soul and the teacher’s grade book.
So the evening fit in nicely with the way Zork sees the world. Despite claiming in character to be, “the world’s most romantic man” and aspiring to someday being, “the poet laureate of cold cereal,” his message of self-expression as a means of liberation is a serious one.
Prior to becoming the boisterous onstage Zork without inhibition, he claims to have been the shyest person in the world – devoid of a social life. That is until he found writing by mistake.
Working as a film techie with Mac Computers, he took to the liking of a co-worker but lacked the ability to say it face to face. Instead, he sent an email as the only substitute open to such a shy man. Still lacking in the social graces, despite the positive response, he took an acting class to bolster his confidence.
That led him to poetry readings – even though he never wrote in rhyme or liked poetry. In fact, when first taking to the podium, he stuck to prose. “I don’t write poetry, I write emails,” he would tell the audience as he read from the contents of his inbox. But finally being able to express how he felt and then getting positive feedback, gave him the confidence he needed to really interact with others.
And the feeling was twice as nice when the adulation came from women, which apparently became a consistent occurrence. “Girls now ask me out at poetry readings,” he said with the relief and remembrance of past pain.
For ACES students, it seems the path to that same place of confidence comes in a shorter period of time with a lot less duress. ACES graduate and University of Phoenix online student, Camille Stokhamer credits the ACES program as a life altering experience. Lacking in the social areas herself, she said, “I was very shy,” but now beams with confidence from the hands on learning style and friendships, she said, that will last a lifetime.
16 year old Sophomore Rachel Gershman has had a similar experience with ACES since she made the switch last year. Motivated by teachers and the different approach that is used, she says, “The school work has changed my view – I actually do it now.”
She even lets her parents in on what she’s up to – taking into account the normal parameters that will always separate teenagers from the rest of us. “I enjoyed English or I learned something today,” she’s happy to tell them.
ACES falls short on miracles too, but the dialogue that takes place is just fine for Rachel’s mother, Sara. “Now, she talks about school,” said Ms. Gershman. Still, more important for parents who’ve seen their children struggle in the traditional setting is the strong connection that develops with teachers. “There’s a tremendous amount of communication between staff and parents,” she said.
ACES also keeps it in the family by alleviating all the tension that comes with poor grades and unfinished homework. “It enabled us to relax in our family interactions because we’re not crazed about getting her homework done, says Sara Gershman.”
Better yet, with Rachel buying into the personal responsibility that ACES engenders in its students, she says, “There’s a lot less yelling and screaming these days,” and that has to be worth the price of the poetry.
Rich Monetti coverage of events at 175 Railroad Road with Rhonda Doctor, Zork, Camille Stokhamer, Rachel Gershman and Sara Gershman