CHARLESTOWN — A former Charlestown Primary School student, who hated reading and writing, wrote a book and now wants to inspire all children to read and write.
Damon Piletz, 42, came back to his former school and visited every grade level at Charlestown Primary for a two-day poetry workshop Monday and Tuesday.
“It’s really surreal,” he said. “I’m teaching students in the same classroom I learned in.”
Piletz lives in Rochester, New York now. He said he hated school because he didn’t understand the process. He graduated from Fall Mountain Regional High School with poor test scores and “barely” made it to college through his passion in music, he said.
Piletz is now an education consultant who works with about 6,000 students throughout New York in enrichment workshops every year. He works with all ages and all subjects. He teaches all types of writing, from poetry to journalism to graphic novels. He even helps students learn to juggle.
Piletz is trying to make learning fun.
“I had been there,” he said. “I can tell when (students are) not making a connection.”
Piletz tells students to write when they’re sad and when they’re laughing. He combines observation with imagination.
Piletz’ return to Charlestown inspired reluctant readers and writers of all ages.
Brenda Olsen scrapped lesson plans on Tuesday morning because her fourth-grade students wanted to spend the day writing poetry instead—a surprise to Olsen.
“Kids often will hear the word ‘writing’ and will shut down,” she said. “I think they have a different attitude now.”
Olsen’s students wrote about things they don’t want to do but have to do. They typed their poems and made graphic images to go with them.
Piletz’ visit invoked a similar passion in Lindsey Carter’s first-grade students. Carter’s students wrote a group poem about spring, which included riding bikes, growing flowers and April vacation.
“I had every kid writing,” Carter said. “They want to do it tomorrow.”
Piletz also spent time with his former seventh-grade teacher Sheila Grimsley.
Grimsley isn’t surprised Piletz wrote a book. Grimsely said the humor Piletz had as a child stuck with him as an adult.
“I’m extremely proud of him,” she said. “He was, and still is, self-motivated. He sets his mind to something and accomplishes it.”
Piletz uses his poetry book, “The Kenny Cartwright Chronicles: Featuring Recently Declassified Documents” to get children excited about learning.
The humorous poetry book is written under the pen name “Rich Unkel.”
Most of the poems involve places Piletz remembers in Charlestown as a child, like sledding in Claremont and visiting neighbors. He talks about sibling rivalry and about being the youngest child with two older sisters.
Piletz started writing about 10 years ago, realizing that he could put his love of telling stories in books. He writes every day. Some ideas for poems are based on “funny things” his 13-year-old son said, like having an itch on a tooth.
“It’s definitely become a daily passion,” Piletz said.
Piletz said he’s a lifelong learner. Writing has changed his life.
“The purpose of writing can be to understand life better, to work out an issue that’s in your life or a feeling of sadness,” he said.
Piletz is writing a sequel to his poetry book. Piletz also has a young adult book in the works.
“If I can awaken (students) being themselves and being interested in reading and writing, I’ve definitely done my job,” he said.