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Prof. Creates English Course for High School Students Through Harvard Extension School

Professor Elisa New delivers a lecture, Poetry
Professor Elisa New delivers a lecture, Poetry By Joshua A. Goldstein
By Elizabeth H. Gellert and Kavya M. Shah, Contributing Writers

Harvard American Literature Professor Elisa New recently launched an online English course for high school students in 29 schools nationwide as part of her larger Poetry in America initiative.

The course, offered through a partnership between Poetry in America, the Extension School, and the National Education Equity Lab, is titled “Poetry in America: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop.” The course focuses on American poets from 1850 through today, and how their writing can serve as a lens through which to view American cities. Students learn by watching video lectures and participate via quizzes and writing assignments.

New declined to comment for this story.

High school students and teachers involved with the pilot had largely enthusiastic responses to the course.

English teacher Danielle Belson of Opelousas High School in Opelousas, Louisiana noted that her students are excited by the online environment of the class.

“They are very excited about the experience of being able to video [call],” Belson said.

Belson also said he students have developed their ability to synthesize poetry from different time periods.

“The assimilation that these students are experiencing is beyond what I, or anybody, anticipated,” Belson said. “Their development and their critical thinking — I’m amazed by it.”

When asked if she thinks that students will remember the course as a significant high school experience, she said, “Yes they will, yes they will.”

At the same time, Belson voiced concerns about the accessibility of the teaching staff.

When asked if there was anything that students wanted from the course, she said, “just more communication with the professors.”

Gregory S. Spencer, the principal of the International Technology Academy, a satellite of Pontiac High School in Pontiac, Michigan, also spoke positively about the course. Spencer said he believes that University President Lawrence S. Bacow’s visit to the academy in Sept. 2018 was instrumental in creating the partnership that exists with Harvard today — a partnership that continues with this course.

Spencer said that when the Extension School contacted Spencer about recruiting students for the “Poetry in America” course, his response was, “sounds great, just from the title.”

Spencer said that he believes the course, and others like it, can be valuable to students. He said he hopes the pilot program represents a start, not an end, to Extension School courses at high schools.

“I’d love to see it continue forever, and I’d love to see it expand,” Spencer said.

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