The students of Ponce de Leon Middle School in Coral Gables will soon take their spot among some of the literary greats whose work lines the shelves of Books & Books.
Since November, the students have been researching and writing stories, poetry and artistic pieces for their first published literary anthology.
Under the guidance of their teachers, students drew from their everyday lives for inspiration. The work touches on universal kids’ topics — from being bored in class to how quickly their birthday money disappears.
Ponce students of all grade levels were encouraged to submit their work, which was reviewed by a committee of parents, teachers and students. They selected 50 finalists, who were called down to the principal’s office to learn the good news.
“A lot of the kids were nervous thinking they were being called down for something bad,” principal Martha Chang said. “But then I would tell them they had been chosen, and they would just light up. They are really excited.”
Eighth-grader Jahdira Osborne, 14, was one the students selected for her poem Lovember, which details her classmates’ relationships. In the poem, Jahdira writes how she is tired of “the heart eyes in the Instagram comments every hour, minute, second in a day.”
“I like this poem because everyone can relate,” she said. “I like writing something personal where I am ranting also.”
Jahdira said she feels grateful to have her work published.
“I thought I would be a senior in high school when I was published,” she said. “I think it is cool that we are able to express ourselves in this way.”
Marlene Ramos, the school’s International Baccalaureate coordinator, said the idea behind the project was to allow the students to leave a legacy by immortalizing their work in a journal.
The possibility of being published motivated some students who are usually less engaged in school.
“It was exciting to see some children who are not normally as involved want to participate because there was this end product to the assignment, rather than just handing something in to a teacher,” she said.
The literary journal, which includes a foreword by Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen, features a cover designed by the father of one of the students, Adrien Alvarez. Alvarez works for Alfred Publishing, where he works on music books for Warner Music.
The book was printed and bound by inmates at the South Bay Correctional Facility, which prints all of the school’s materials. Books & Books has partnered with the school to shelve the book free of charge, so it can be made available for purchase.
“This project really has been a great unifier between the students and the community,” Ramos said.
Books & Books has also invited the students for a book launch party and reading at its Coral Gables store Sunday afternoon. At the party, students will sign copies of the literary journal and 12 of them will read their pieces.
The students practiced reading at Ponce Thursday morning, as teachers reminded them “not to eat their commas” and “be confident and passionate.”
Ramos says the faculty has been thrilled to be able to give the students this unique opportunity.
“Usually, you don’t remember your feelings at this age,” Ramos said. “This will allow them to keep their work forever and look back on it.”