Bearns: A Speaking Tradition Goes Virtual

Middle School Bearns 2021 Poly at sunset

One of the oldest traditions at Poly is the Bearns speaking competition, which has evolved over the years to the 21st century version that was presented as a webinar by Middle School on April 30. Middle School English teachers Laura Caldwell, Allison Corvo, Dr. Robert Aston, Michael Gentile, Melinda Lvovsky, and Lee Marcus, several wearing jaunty berets, served as co-hosts. Head of Technology Charles Polizano and Director of Student Life Alex Davis provided tech support.

Laura Caldwell welcomed the students and faculty for the virtual Bearns presentations and explained that there would be four students presenting in each of Grades 5-8. Each grade’s presentations were followed by commentary by a teacher from a different grade.

Grade 8 Presentations

Teachers Dr. Robert Aston and Allison Corvo explained that in eighth grade there were two areas of focus: one on performance, and the other on the text of the poem. Dr. Aston introduced the first two prerecorded video performances:

Stavroula G. ’25 recited  “Mad Girls Love Song” by Sylvia Plath followed by Leo M. ’25 presenting “Life is a Dream” by Adam Saroyan.

Stavroula G. ’25 recites “Mad Girls Love Song” by Sylvia Plath.

Corvo said that students could also record a performance or the text of a poem in response to a poem. She introduced students Sonia K. ’25 who read a poem by Seamus Heaney, “A Dog Was Crying Tonight in Wicklow.” and Natalie T. ’25,  who read a poem “Click by” she wrote in response to a poem “Touchscreen” by Marshall “Soulful” Jones. 

In response to the four presentations, Grade 5 teacher Melinda Lvovsky said she was very impressed with all the work citing how Stavi had synched with the words and Leo’s fine elocution. Sonya’s “inflection and softness” added to her reading.  In her response poem, Natalie had used repetition to stress “doesn’t it feel good to be loved” in the commentary on social media.

Grade 7 Presentations

Teachers Lee Marcus and Laura Caldwell said the focus in Grade 7 English had been on sense of place, diverse authors, and beautiful poetry.

Kaya F. ’26 presented “This Body” by Renee Watson, about an African American girl’s  feelings about her skin, hair, and natural look.

Eden G. ’26 read “Poem for the Blues Singers” by Sterling Plumpp, with its powerful imagery.

Marlon R. ’26 read  “If We Must Die”  by Claude McKay, a Harlem Renaissance poet. Afterward, Dr. Aston said that this poem is in the form of a sonnet. The images are “so moving and powerful.” Dr. Aston said that Marlon has used the poetry to break the rules of sonnets. 

Quinn Foley’s ’26 poetry project was “kitchenette building” by Gwendolyn Brooks. Quinn used vivid colors, black and white and dream-like images to set the scene.

Poly families may log into the Parent Portal to watch the full Middle School Bearns presentation and see all the wonderful recitations.

Grade 6 Presentations

Teacher Michael Gentile explained that Grade 6 had looked at four forms of poetry: sonnets, haikus, elegy, and odes. He said they looked at the strict rules for these poetry forms and how poets break them.

Jordan G. ’27 recited “Alone” by Maya Angelou. In her video, Jordan is sitting alone on a couch at home during lockdown.

Jordan G. ’27 recites “Alone” by Maya Angelou.

Charlotte K. ’27 read “Invisible Children” by Mariana Llanos, which has allusions to Alice in Wonderland and Harold and the Purple Crayon. In this powerful poem, “children fall through the cracks” because of negligence.

“I Dream A World” by Langston Hughes, was the subject of a video presentation by Annabelle Thompson ’27. The background music of “We Shall Overcome” and images of BLM marches and MLK was “so timely,” said Marcus.

Kailynn H. ’27 presented “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, which says in part, “Let the world dream otherwise, we wear the mask.”

Grade 5 Presentations

Melinda Lvovsky introduced the Grade 5 presentations. “Some are whimsical and some are serious,” she said.

Mick W. ’28 read “Cat’s Dream” by Pablo Neruda, which paints a picture of how a cat sleeps. Afterward, Gentile said he thought it was amazing how Mick was able to find pictures of cats that so closely describe what Neruda is saying in his poem.

In reciting “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, Bryson S. ’28 took a British poem about war and made it universal by his choice of pictures.

Anissa L. ’28 read “In the Time of Silver Rain” by Langston Hughes, which she illustrated with silver-colored rain and flower petals “when spring and life renew.”

Lila D. ’28 presented the final piece, “My Horse and Me” by Kathleen West, which begins, “I love my horse and I’ll tell you why…” Gentile said he was glad they ended with a happy poem, which showed a connection between the writer, who clearly loves horses, and the poem.

Lila D. ’28 read “My Horse and Me” by Kathleen West.

Poly families may log into the Parent Portal to watch the full Middle School Bearns presentation and see all the wonderful recitations.