Morningside fourth-graders draw inspiration from legendary writers during visit to The Mastheads studios

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NORTH ADAMS — The Mastheads studios were architecturally inspired by the great writers of Pittsfield's past.

But to the fourth-grade students at Pittsfield's Morningside Community School, they more closely resemble a walking Oreo cookie or an almost-bald dog.

Students brought their surroundings to life with the power of simile during a poetry expedition to a museum rife with stimuli, during a field trip to The Mastheads studios at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesday.

The Mastheads was launched this year in Pittsfield with a goal of inspiring a new generation of creativity in the Berkshires.

The series of writing studios built through the program are designed with inspiration from authors with a connection to the city, including Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry David Thoreau and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

After spending the summer in Pittsfield, the studios are at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, where the Morningside Community School fourth grade came to check out the studios, tour the museum and take in a poetry lesson from The Mastheads' Sarah Trudgeon.

"It's a memorable experience," Trudgeon said. "They're physically tied to these studios that other writers have been inside. The connections are just a lot stronger when we do it like this."

Through The Mastheads, Trudgeon teaches a weekly hourlong poetry class for about 35 Morningside students that aligns with the school's English curriculum.

Wednesday's lesson began with an effort to get students thinking about similes by answering questions like, "What would this building say?"

The students heard poems, like one from Emily Dickinson, that were full of examples.

Students took their skills into the writing studios and on a tour of the museum that featured an array of writing prompts.

"The goal is to empower the kids as writers and as smart, special people. When we do something like this, it's a celebration of them and their writing," Trudgeon said.

It's exciting to have people from around the country visit Pittsfield, but a vital part of the project is also to inspire those who live here and may not even realize the city was such an important part of literary history, according to Mastheads Co-Founder Tessa Kelly.

"For the kids, it's a way of showing them that place is important — their place is important — and that they can think about the world around them in different ways," Kelly said.

For Kelly, that meant an architectural interpretation of history. But for the kids, it could be a poetic interpretation.

"I think it's really great to expose the kids to the idea that they can make anything of the world around them," Kelly said.

Teachers saw the exercise as a great way to get students out of their chairs and thinking differently.

"For many students these days, their weekend consists of sitting in front of a video game system, while there are many places in the Berkshires that would open up their minds," said teacher Renee Clark.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.


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