Students at two northeast Valley high schools are getting a chance not only to express their feelings, but to publish them as well, thanks to an unusual poetry workshop taught by a Pasadena architect with a bent for literature.
For the second year, Fernando Castro has obtained a grant from the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department to lead his popular writing workshop at San Fernando and McAlister high schools. After the first year, during which he also taught at Mission High School, Castro published a handsome volume of the students’ work, something he plans to do again this year.
On Thursday, the Colombian native brought his calm manner and knowledge of writing to San Fernando High, where his weekly sessions are greeted with enthusiasm by students and faculty alike.
“The kids sense the authenticity of his approach and he makes them feel important,” said Sheila Roth, chairwoman of the English department and the teacher who opened her classroom doors to Castro.
“I think it is essential to bring someone like Fernando to the school, someone who is really passionate about a particular area of the arts,” she said.
“The goal is to introduce kids to the creative process of poetry and to get them involved in reading and writing,” said Castro, who works for the state Department of Emergency Services.
“For me, a big part of this is to have kids who are gifted work with those who are at risk. Too often they are separated. I like to mix them so they can learn from each other.”
Senior Daniel Arvizu said Castro’s workshops are like a college course, with frank discussions and a lot of give-and-take among the students.
“Fernando has really helped me to express myself,” said Daniel. “He tells me not to think too hard, to just let it flow.”
Senior Libertad Ayala, who included Pablo Neruda and Maya Angelou among her favorite writers, said she appreciated the nonjudgmental atmosphere of the class.
“Personally, I’m really into my culture,” she said. “Fernando and Mrs. Roth really let us bring our own ideas into class so we can write from what’s in our hearts.”