How Mr. Ellis Inspires Generations of Young Writers

Each week, the library at St. Mark the Evangelist School in Harlem is livened by the sound of a group of fourth graders rushing into the room. With their small notebooks in hand, the children will gather in a circle, excited to share their thoughts in an environment that is both energizing and safe for one of their favorite school activities: writing poetry. 

All Partnership Schools choose their own co-curricular activities—the sports and clubs that give students a chance to cultivate a range of helpful habits beyond the classroom, everything from teamwork to persistence to creative problem-solving. Students at St. Mark have a poetry club as one of those activities, thanks to David Ellis—a published poet who has taught at St. Mark and served as its librarian for over twenty years.

David Ellis, Poetry Club Creator

“My vision for the club is to inspire some writers,” explains Ellis. “I feel like we all have a book inside of us.”

The poets who gathered with him one Monday in April certainly seem inspired by a wide range of topics. One of the prevailing experiences students credited for their ideas was a recent field trip to the Schomberg Center.

Just a couple of blocks from St. Mark, the Schomberg hosts exhibits on writers who have walked the same sidewalks the students travel each day. Mr. Ellis takes the Poetry Club to the center every year for inspiration, which is the goal of every club meeting. Quite a few of the poems kids recited were written there.

Over the course of the meeting, students spoke about the themes that resonated with them the most.

Parker wrote about how she loves nature, and nature loves her.

Sael read aloud her poem about how plastic harms the animals in the ocean.

“If I could change the world, I would help the homeless and the poor,” Skylar shared in her poem entitled “If I Could Change the World.”

The openness of the students is a testament to the space Mr. Ellis has created for self-expression. Fourth grader Kais explained, “I get to express my feelings just by writing a poem.” Others in the club mentioned how much they enjoy the community they have as student writers. 

“Mr. Ellis is kind of like a free verse poem,” Juliete chimes in, explaining that the club meetings he leads are always exciting and filled with surprises. 

As a network, Partnership Schools deliberately seeks to preserve the characteristics that make each school unique, and uniquely capable of serving the community around it. David Ellis is part of the rich literary community that still animates Harlem, and by fostering a community of budding writers at St. Mark, he helps students find their own voices and hear those of others, past and present. We often say that Partnership Schools are more than classrooms—they are communities—and at St. Mark, that community includes a rich literary tradition that students are embracing as their own.