As part of a monthlong celebration of black history, Jullian Irving Grante visited Floris Elementary School in Herndon last week to hold poetry workshops with students. Grante, who lives in Arlington, has written a collection of poems, "Reflections on Love and Life."

"Who doesn't like English?" Grante asked a group of fourth graders at the beginning of one of the day's workshops.

Hands flew up.

"Well, aren't we honest," he laughed. He told students that he felt the same way when he was in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. But now, he said, many years later, he finally had realized the benefit of hard study of the English language.

Grante met with eight elementary classes last Friday. In each one, he began by reading "You Are the Future," which he wrote and which he said was dedicated to the students of Floris Elementary:

One day you'll graduate from high school to pursue your lifelong dreams,

to complete your education and be the best that you can be.

In years to come there will be many things to do and see.

Today is only the beginning for students at Floris Elementary . . .

In introducing "You Are the Future," which is an abstract rhyme about the many life choices students will face as they grow older, Grante said the poem "generalizes a broad spectrum of things."

After he read a piece called "Friends," Grante pointed at a student and asked: "What does that mean to you?"

"Life offers you a lot of things, but it also offers you friendship with other people," the child replied.

Grante's workshop method was simple: After reading a few of his own pieces, he allowed eager volunteers to read his work to the others. The last half of the 30-minute workshops was dedicated to hearing the students' poems.

The young minds at Floris Elementary proved that they could create often strong and evocative imagery in fresh language, as in the "The Calling of the Children," by Floris fourth grader Joel Gay:

When I hear the calling of the children

it sounds like the echo from

the roughest and deepest seas

But when I come running to

help there's nothing there but

the calling of children.

The students' poems showed no failure in their attempt to embody feeling:

"Night Mares" by Rachel Huffman, 9:

Night mares are sometimes

scary and sometimes happy

'cause mares are horses

like the night horses and

you can think of castles and

princes or bad night


"Leopards" by Susan Passey, 9:

Cubs, cute as can be

Mother cudddles with family

On a log near the river.

Finally, they are asleep.

Quiet! Don't wake them.

"My teacher got me started {writing poetry} when I was in the second grade and I have been writing ever since," said Rachel, a fourth grader. "Poems bring out feeling."

The poetry workshop was one of many activities planned during Black History Month at Floris Elementary. Each morning, over the school public address system, students produce a short radio show called "A Moment in History," which presents some aspect of black history. Other events include visits from a folklorist, a trip to the Museum of African Art and study of black music and culture. Other classes were assigned themes on which to write, such as black leaders.

Teacher Diane Fleming's fifth grade class had been studying poetry before the workshop.

"This week we've been studying a lot of poems: haiku, descriptive poems," said Matthew Nickels, 10. "It's fun when you get the hang of it."

Nine-year-old Colleen Berry said that "Dream Keepers," a poem by Langston Hughes, impressed her enough to prompt her to try writing her own poems.

Arria Ibach, 10, said: "I think it's pretty good that we're studying about famous blacks like Martin Luther King and Shirley Chisholm."