Teacher of young poets inspired
By Josh O’Gorman
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | June 16,2014
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Crosset Brook Middle School language arts teacher Betsy Unger returns to meet her former students Friday at the school in Duxbury.
DUXBURY — Call it a “poetic” ending to a career for a middle school teacher who has touched the lives of countless students, and the community as a whole.
For the past 13 years, Crossett Brook Middle School language arts teacher Betsy Unger has encouraged her students to express themselves through the writing, publishing and reading aloud of their own original poetry. However, a debilitating illness will prevent her from continuing her mission.
“I’m most interested in helping seventh- and eighth-graders find their voice,” Unger said Friday, shortly after visiting her students to hand out the latest student poetry collection. “Poetry is about wondering, and these 13- and 14-year-olds wonder about everything.”
“Scribble,” the student poetry collection, began four years ago, thanks to the generosity of businesses and individuals in the Waterbury area, who donated more than $4,000 in items for a raffle fundraiser. In that intervening time, Unger took a page from Montpelier’s monthlong celebration of poetry every April by working with Waterbury businesses — including Park Row Cafe, Bridgeside Books and K.C.’s Bagel Cafe — to display the students’ work.
Jasper Goodman, 14, is an eighth-grader at Crossett Brook who writes a sports column for the Times Argus.
“Miss Unger has been great, and has been a great influence on my peers, myself and countless others,” Goodman said. “She’s always there for you. She’s someone who is there to help you with your writing and your poetry. It’s been great to work with her for my writing for school and outside of school.”
Geoffrey Gevalt, executive director of the Young Writers Project, discussed Unger’s influence on her students.
“She has been a really remarkable writing teacher for a long time. We have seen stuff from her kids almost as long as Young Writers Project has been around,” Gevalt said. “She was one of the early teachers who saw the value of getting her students’ work published. It’s really too bad that she has to leave teaching.”
For the past eight years, the 44-year-old Unger has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls CFS a “complex and devastating disorder” with symptoms that, in addition to fatigue, can include muscle pain, impaired memory or mental concentration, and insomnia. Researchers do not know what causes the syndrome, and there is no cure or specific drugs to treat it.
“With CFS, the harder you fight, the worse it is,” said Unger, who said the syndrome causes her blood to pool in her extremities and not reach her brain, which during a typical teaching day would leave her exhausted and needing to lie down by noon.
In addition to writing and publishing, Unger organized a series of events in which the students read their poetry aloud.
Sen. William Doyle, R-Washington, has been a longtime supporter of the poetry series.
“It’s a remarkable program and very unique. The idea of having all the students write a poem and read out loud really helps with the students’ self esteem,” said Doyle, who said he has “never missed an invitation” to attend a poetry reading. “I think everyone is sad because she gave so much to the school and to her students.”
The future of poetry for students in the Waterbury area is uncertain. Unger said she hopes someone will pick it up and continue to build upon the foundation she has laid.
“I hope somebody continues this, because these kids really have a lot to say,” Unger said.