Diane S.W. Lee / The Bulletin

PAULINA —

Thirteen-year-old Sierra Fortado worked up the courage to read her poem in front of her 10 classmates.

“I am a good friend to others,” she read on Monday. “I am a good listener when you want me to listen. I am a young unselfish buckaroo ...”

Sierra, a seventh-grader at Paulina Elementary School, said she never thought she could craft her own poem until Jamie Houghton came to her school.

Houghton, 27, of Bend, is visiting the school as a writer in residence from The Nature of Words, a literary organization in Bend that promotes authors and poets through various events.

“It didn't really seem like something I would do,” Sierra said about writing poems. “But she introduced it to us, and I really like it.”

Houghton is staying at a ranch of one of the students. She has been giving daily poetry lessons to students since April 5. Her last day at the school is Thursday.

“This is just another opportunity for students to develop their creative writing skills to help their academic writing and their critical thinking skills,” Houghton said.

The school's parent-teacher organization auctioned arts and crafts donated by parents and community members to raise money. About $1,000 was used for the writer in residence program. The group also raised money to pay for an art teacher and music teacher, both part time. They visit the school at least twice a month.

Margaret Wood, 51, a parent of a fourth-grader at the school, said arts are crucial to help students develop the confidence and ability to express themselves.

The Crook County School District has struggled with budget problems in the past few years. The district has had to slash funding for extracurricular activities and lay off staff to help make up for budget shortfalls.

Wood said art and music programs are usually the first to be cut. She and other parents wanted to preserve arts, writing and music in the classroom.

“One thing important to note is that the kids in Paulina don't have access to music lessons — it's a pretty big effort to drive from Paulina to Bend, to Redmond or Prineville to take music classes or art classes,” Wood said. “And essentially, we felt as parents, that we wanted to support art staff by keeping these things in the curriculum.”

Paulina's two instructors teach everything from math and reading to PE to 30 kindergarten through eighth-grade students at the school. Although the small rural school offers a few arts and music classes, teachers and parents say it isn't comprehensive.

On Monday, students read their poems out loud and practiced free writing.

“I hope they view writing more than just a chore for school, but something they can use to witness their lives and express their own experiences in their own words,” Houghton said.

Seventh-grader Tim Thomas, 14, always struggled with writing. But Houghton's lessons got him hooked on writing poetry.

“I love doing it, and I'm glad I'm doing it, because she has taught me a lot about how to write better,” Tim said.

Tim showed his first poem “Branding Time,” to his father, who noticed his son was getting better at writing. Tim said he wants to be a rancher like his father and plans to write poems about the life of a cowboy in his spare time.

“I'll probably just keep practicing every day,” Tim said.

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