February 23, 2017

New Paltz Oracle Logo
The Rest is Still Unwritten

By Melanie Zerah

Kids Workshopping

In hopes to benefit the future of young writers, acclaimed journalists and authors participate in enriching and engaging workshops with them.

Due to the current tumultuous political climate, those concerned for the future of this country are beginning to ask the question: who are the children of America going to become? What outlets are available to them so that they may truly carve their own path in life?

Enter Writopia Lab, a non-profit organization founded in New York City by journalist and educator Rebecca Wallace-Segall in April 2007. Since its fruition, creative writing workshops are offered to children, ranging from ages 6 to 8. The various programs offered by Writopia are taught by published authors and playwrights. The programs are directed towards children of all financial backgrounds. Writopia works to give all interested young writers a chance to explore their inner creator.

“We are helping these kids figure what they want,” Wallace-Segall said. “We are excited by their vision and intrigued by their perspective.”

Wallace-Segall began her life of writing as a journalist for The Manhattan Village Voice. During her 10 years at the publication, Wallace-Segall mainly focused on pieces exploring the experiences of diverse youth in New York City; she has published stories examining the lives of young people who left their traditional Hasidic culture and how the pressure of arranged marriages affects Indian youth in America.

In her last two years at The Voice, Wallace-Segall cultivated her interest in the culture and lives of young people by working in education. After running various writing workshops at schools in Manhattan, she was offered a full-time teaching job to run 10-week long programs.

“I was in local schools where kids were bored,” Wallace-Segall said. “After working with them and helping them find their creativity, many of these kids ended up winning scholastic awards. Kids who hated writing started loving it, and they began winning more and more regional and national awards.”

However, after the school came under new administration, the widely beloved program was threatened. Thankfully, many parents fought to keep it thriving, which led Wallace-Segall to take matters into her own hands — creating Writopia.

“I thought to myself, ‘If I’m going to continue this as a non-profit, I’m going to need some help,’” Wallace-Segall said. “Families began writing donations, Scholastic Awards promoted it and I never looked back. There is so much rewarding social impact that comes from running a non-profit.”

Although Writopia began in Manhattan, it is now a nationally participated organization. The philanthropic nature of many well-off New York City residents were the cornerstone of the organization’s development. One of Writopia’s biggest goals is to make enrollment in their programs as affordable and accessible as possible.

Writopia offers a reputable summer sleepaway camp; an extremely diverse program where small groups of children work together in workshops, creating and sharing deep intimate conversations which help them develop stories.

“In these groups kids communicate and say, ‘That’s interesting to me,’” Wallace-Segall said.

The camp, as well as other Writopia programs, offer financial aid to interested families that may not be able to pay the full participation fee. According to Wallace-Segall, the summer camp is the only time for many children from wealthier families to meet children their age from other backgrounds and walks of life.

“All instructors are trained with diverse backgrounds, we have kids of many races and backgrounds,” Wallace-Segall said. “With that in mind we also try to not have one kid from various backgrounds in one workshop. These kids offer insight to one another they otherwise wouldn’t get at home.”

Families choose from an honor-based sliding scale when paying for Writopia programs. This includes four price points from $220-$595 in order to join a workshop. Twenty percent of families cannot afford the lowest fee and apply for and receive full aid. The sleepaway camp uses a system where 50 percent of families apply for and receive aid.

“We do this for two reasons. One, we believe that literacy support and literary enrichment should be available to all children and teens and two, we witness every day that diverse groups inspire deeper thinking among the participants, broadening of worldview, a richer understanding of the human experience and therefore much better writing,” Wallace-Segall said.

New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers is not only on the board for Writopia, but his two children, Rafi and Nina have an online Writopia account where they can write and share stories.

“Writopia was built organically by Rebecca and from day one she insisted that her program be fun for as many kids from as broad a cross-section as possible,” Rogers said. “She has stuck by her commitment to fun. Kids beam when they describe their Writopia experience.

According to Rafi and Nina, Writopia offers different writing choices or platforms with which to write.

Although Writopia programs affords participants shared life experiences, friendship and unforgettable creative experiences, children are able to develop confidence in their abilities as writers which can lead them to a richer, happier life.

February 9, 2017

Forward Logo
Meet The Jewish Journalist Teaching America’s Kids To Write

By Ruth Weissmann

In the early 2000s, journalist Rebecca Wallace-Segall began leading creative writing workshops at New York’s Abraham Joshua Heschel School. She was, unknowingly, developing a program that would go on to teach hundreds of children across the United States how to write creatively.

Diverse group photo

After leaving the Heschel School, Wallace-Segall used the curriculum she developed while there to found Writopia Lab in 2007. The New York-based not-for-profit organization, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is now national, offering creative writing workshops for writers as young as 4 across 5 U.S. cities, in addition to running retreats and a yearly sleep-away camp. On any given day, you can find schoolchildren spending their after-school hours at one of the Writopia Labs, swapping stories and fishing for feedback. Wallace-Segall, currently the organization’s executive director, said that the program speaks to young writers who may not have an outlet for creative writing in their own school.

Rebecca Wallace-Segall

Rebecca Wallace-Segall

“This is a space where kids come to write and reflect and share, everything from absurdist fiction to political writing,” Wallace-Segall said in a phone interview. “It all happens here.”

Wallace-Segall had begun working as a journalist in 1997, contributing op-eds to such outlets as The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post and The Atlantic while writing about education and children’s issues for the Village Voice. After nearly eight years, she left her post at the Voice to pursue education, though she wasn’t sure if her divergence from professional journalism would be permanent.

“I didn’t leave journalism — I only wanted to take a break. I was writing a lot about kids and kids’ issues, but I wasn’t actually hanging out with children that much,” Wallace-Segall said. She was working in schools across the city as a resident writer with Teachers & Writers Collaborative when she was asked to help at the Heschel School. Initially, she began doing creative writing exercises with a small group of students who were less engaged by the school’s curriculum, encouraging them to submit their work to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She said the program was so much fun, and yielded such positive results, that the following year it was expanded to include the entire middle school.

“That’s when I went through my identity crisis,” she said, laughing, recalling her decision to commit to running the program. “I was getting to know [the kids] on an intimate, beautiful level and helping them write these deeply personal pieces. I was totally in it.”

When her time at the school came to an end, Wallace-Segall sought to make the program available to a more socioeconomically diverse group. Several of the Heschel School’s parents, invigorated by their children’s success, supported the founding of what eventually became Writopia Lab. Thus began a decade-long tradition of inspiring students to develop fiction, memoirs, poems and plays through workshops intended to be both fun and productive.

All of Writopia Lab’s instructors are published authors or playwrights, Wallace-Segall explained, noting, “It’s an authentic writing community.”

Wallace-Segall’s own work as a journalist helped her develop Writopia Lab’s creative model. “As a journalist, it was all about listening to people and trying to capture their stories,” she said. “That’s what’s defining about Writopia: We’re listening to the kids and helping them figure out who they are.”

She referred to the not-for-profit’s approach to teaching as “deadline-oriented.” Writopia Lab staffers encourage their students to submit work to publications each month, which Wallace-Segall said helps motivate them to write at their highest level. Thus far, that tactic has seemed to work; in 2016 alone, Writopia Lab students earned over 100 publications and awards from external outlets like the online journal “Teen Ink.”

“It’s that same high energy of journalism that I loved, but it’s also this deep, fun, interpersonal work with kids,” Wallace-Segall said.

She cited her Jewish upbringing as another influencer. Much of Writopia Lab’s structure was informed by her early years in Young Judaea, a year-round national program for Jewish youth in which she was very active. Wallace-Segall noted that many elements of Writopia Lab — like the peer-driven workshops, retreats and overnight camps — are much like those of the Zionist movement. “I didn’t consciously structure it that way, but my sense of the world was very much informed by Young Judaea,” she acknowledged.

In fact, Wallace-Segall’s Jewish roots are the reason that she founded Writopia Lab as a not-for-profit. “I was raised in a tikkun olam [repair the world] environment my whole life,” she recalled, explaining that social justice is a central value at the organization. Participants pay on a sliding scale: Roughly 20% of the families at Writopia Lab receive full financial aid, and no family has ever been turned away. “Profit has never been the central interest,” Wallace-Segall added.

When asked if Writopia Lab engenders benefits outside a child’s academic life, Wallace-Segall smiled.

“Most people want to know if there are benefits inside the classroom,” she said, before explaining that the organization speaks to young writers who haven’t found a place in their school community. She noted that on yearly surveys, parents contend that their children are happier and more confident than they were before joining. That’s partially because of the recognition many Writopia Lab students receive; according to their website, since 2007 Writopia writing has earned over 1,000 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, two NYC Literary Honors from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several scholarships for high school seniors, among other accolades.

While many students experience such recognition, a Writopia Lab workshop also includes learning to deal with rejection.

“We tell our kids that winning publication doesn’t make you a writer; it’s the fact that you continue writing even if you don’t get the recognition you desire,” Wallace-Segall said.

The not-for-profit will tackle its next big project — an instructional book for teachers on the Writopia Lab method — in the coming months. Looking back on her decade at the organization, Wallace-Segall doesn’t seem to regret her directional change.

“I didn’t know I was missing anything,” she said. “This has filled me up in a way nothing has before.”

June 9, 2016

Washington Independent Review of Books

Writopia Lab Open House for Kids and Teens

One More Page Books in Arlington hosts the fun this Sun., June 12, at 5PM

Writopia Lab is hosting an open house and free workshop for kids and teens! They'll introduce their programs through a brief information session and an extended workshop, featuring Writopia games and exercises, curated by novelist, essayist, and Writopia instructor Kathleen McCleary. Bring your writing, ideas, and love for writing! Parents and families welcome! Activities will be followed by a Writopia raffle of over $100 in prizes!

At One More Page Books, 2200 N. Westmoreland St., Arlington, VA. Click here for info.

October 26, 2014

The Write Stuff

by Katie Linek

The Power of Expression in a Safe Space

In a small New York City theater one May evening, the lights go down and a series of short, entertaining, and thought-provoking plays begins. Touching on themes like cultural tension, mental illness, and dysfunctional relationships, each play brings something unique to the table. What’s more, each play was written by an up-and-coming playwright under the age of 18.

The writers are all students of Writopia Lab, a nonprofit that holds writing workshops in schools, treatment facilities, homeless shelters, and public libraries. The organization, which operates in several cities, works with children and teens from all walks of life, aiming to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking through creative writing.

Writopia students write anything from fiction and memoirs to graphic novels and poetry. The annual Worldwide Plays Festival highlights the work of the program’s young playwrights.

A Playwright Is Born

Writopia Lab produces the weeklong festival each May, presenting the plays Off-Broadway, in a professional New York City theater that is smaller than those traditionally used for Broadway shows. The event celebrates voices and themes that span socioeconomic groups and geographical regions, delivering humor and fresh perspectives. Each play is developed and polished by a young writer at one of Writopia’s workshops; professional directors and actors are then matched to each play, rehearsing the work and bringing it to life.

“The writing of our Writopia students continues to bring remarkable creativity, risk, truth, and beauty to the stage, while the professionalism and skill of the directors, designers, actors, and crew create a spectacular platform that showcases the power of these works,” says Kara Ayn Napolitano, managing artistic director of Writopia Lab.

Worldwide Pants, Inc., owned by television host and comedian David Letterman, has sponsored the festival for four years, enabling Writopia Lab to present the work of more than 250 playwrights. Forty-eight plays and musicals were produced this year alone.

Markus, an eighth-grader whose play was produced in May, drew on real-life experiences to develop his story. Raised in the Bronx and attending the free Writopia workshops offered by the New York Public Library (NYPL), he wanted to reflect New York City’s diversity while incorporating his love of classical music. The result was Premiere, a play depicting cultural tensions between two students—one Jewish, the other German—who are brought together by classical music.

“I really enjoy the program,” explains Markus. “I learned how to be a better writer and to elaborate more. I definitely want to continue writing.”

“Writopia was a wonderful experience for the children at the New York Public Library—offering them a creative outlet in a unique and innovative way,” says the NYPL’s director for library sites and services, Kevin Winkler. “The library strives to offer a variety of programs that can inspire as well as educate, and Writopia allowed us to do just that.”

Another Writopia student, Sharm, explains that Writopia helped him get his emotions out, “because you can be creative and open there.” Sharm joined the program while living at a treatment facility for incarcerated youth. His play, Housing, mixes equal parts humor and reality in exploring a young man’s relationships with his sister and his girlfriend as they argue over living arrangements.

UncensoredRachel@H4H

Expressing Emotion through Writing

Students find themselves at Writopia Lab for an assortment of reasons; some are already accomplished writers in search of high-quality feedback, while others are struggling with writing in school and need a safe place to develop their skills. Still others turn to Writopia as an alternative form of therapy.

One young writer, Ronnie, lives in a treatment facility that provides long-term care to teenagers with behavioral problems, emotional difficulties, and mental illness. Most of the teens residing there have been through the juvenile justice system, including Ronnie.

Upon joining a Writopia Lab workshop, Ronnie found a comfortable and productive way to explore and express his anger and depression—through his writing.

“I love writing poems,” explains Ronnie. “If I had a rough week, I can come down to workshop and sum it all up in a poem. It helps a lot.”

The program coordinators describe him as passionate, prolific, and engaged. Ronnie says that the workshop is the highlight of his week and plans to continue participating in Writopia after he leaves the residential treatment facility.

“The activities we have in the residential treatment facilities are used for nontraditional therapy,” says Fastima Gooden, activity coordinator at one of the facilities where Writopia offers workshops. “These defiant kids come to Writopia and are given the opportunity to openly express themselves. It really boosts their self-esteem.”

In May, Voices, a play written by Ronnie about a young man’s struggle with mental illness, was produced.

Creative Writing for All

In 2006 Writopia’s founder, Rebecca Wallace-Segall, was hired by the principal of a school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to run a creative writing program.

“I loved what I was doing there, and the kids were getting a wonderful experience. They were winning more writing awards than those from the top private and public schools,” explains Wallace-Segall.

In 2007, when it was announced that, despite its success, the writing program was going to be cut, Wallace-Segall and ten parents decided to found Writopia, taking the creative writing program to the public sector.

“My original work at the school was with kids who came from privilege, and when we started Writopia, we wanted our workshops to be available to a broad range of kids,” Wallace-Segall says. “We are the most socio-economically diverse writing program in New York City. We’re not a segregated program; we dig deep into diverse characters and people, and by exposing them to each other, their lives and writing become richer.”

Although founded in New York City, Writopia has spread to areas across the country, including Westchester County, New York; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; and Chicago. The program now serves more than 2,000 kids per year and continues to grow.

Enrichment for a Vulnerable Population

One hot Tuesday in August, around 15 kids are seated in a classroom at Saratoga Family Inn, a homeless shelter run by Homes for the Homeless, a New York City–based shelter provider. Hanging on the wall are signs that read, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” The room is buzzing with energy and excitement as the children talk.

This is the last week of a six-week workshop run by Writopia as part of the Saratoga Summer Day Camp, a full-day program for homeless and at-risk youth. Meeting three times a week, the instructors help two groups of kids—one made up of children under 13 and the other made up of teens—develop short stories from which they will read excerpts for an audience in just two days. In September, they will each receive a book of all of their stories.

A handful of the younger kids are at the computers off to the side of the room, finishing and editing their stories with the help of instructors who walk around offering guidance and asking thought-provoking questions. Across the room, kids who have already finished take part in games and exercises to keep their creativity flowing.

UncensoredDanielle@H4H

One ten-year-old girl sits at a table surrounded by her peers, answering their questions from the perspective of Chrissie, a character she created. Her answers get her thinking about what to include in her short story to develop her character further.

In another activity, students use the five senses to describe where they are from. One girl who has been quiet up until now brightens up and offers to read her poem, beginning: “In my Africa, we dance.” The instructors’ faces light up, and the other children actively listen. When the poem is over, the other members of the group take turns giving positive feedback. The young girl, who seemed down at the start of the day, now appears engaged and excited to continue working on her poem.

Elsewhere in the room, an eight-year-old boy sits alone, looking upset. One of the instructors walks over and takes a seat next to him, asking if he is all right. When he does not respond, the instructor asks if writing another story would make him feel better. The boy nods his head, gives a little smile, and runs back over to a computer.

Later in the day, the teen group gathers in a circle in a small room. This group is initially withdrawn, but as they go around the circle sharing their favorite and least favorite words, the mood lightens. Some students break away to finish their stories, while others share with the group parts of what they have written. Each time, they are flooded with positive feedback from their peers, which visibly increases their confidence.

The instructor, Jessie, reveals that seeing this change in attitude is her favorite part of the job. “You can see it. These kids come in, some visibly in a bad mood. It’s rewarding to see that by the end they are participating and engaging with the group. They are all so talented.”

Homeless children are more likely to struggle in school and have emotional and behavioral issues than children living in stable housing. Writopia helps these kids express their emotions through writing while improving their skills.

“Writopia instructors work with our kids one on one, giving them personal attention and showing them that writing can be fun,” explains Saratoga Family Inn Administrator Mike Fahy. “Homes for the Homeless knows how important it is for all kids to have the same opportunities to learn and grow. That’s why enriching activities like Writopia, which works with children from all walks of life, are so important and appreciated.”

The Writing Crisis

According to research, students of all ages struggle to write proficiently. Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the National Center for Educational Progress found that only one in five students in the U.S. is able to write competently. The English Journal, published by the National Council of Teachers of English, reported that 67 percent of high school freshmen tested below grade level in writing.

Theories about why this may be the case run the gamut. Some believe the issue is that writing instruction is not rigorous enough and focuses too much on expressing feelings, rather than on teaching students how to write logically and precisely. The new Common Core Standards, national guidelines adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, address that concern by putting emphasis on persuasive writing.

Others, however, argue that standardized testing and the associated curricula are the problem, leaving kids feeling disconnected from the learning process. Wallace-Segall explains, “Kids don’t feel like thinkers or creators anymore.” In fact, one of the top three reasons students give for their dislike of writing is that the constrictive nature of many assignments makes them feel out of touch with what they are doing, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Students also say they dislike writing because they do not know how to write or are not sure what teachers want.

Many times, students do not want to express themselves for fear of being laughed at by peers or causing concern among adults with their violent, mature, or “out-of-the-box” ideas. For example, a student writing a story about suicide is not necessarily suicidal. Writopia, on the other hand, is a place where unusual ideas are taken seriously and serious ideas do not cause alarm.

In 2012 Rebecca Wallace-Segall spoke at a TEDx event, a local, self-organized program that brings people together to spark deep discussion. TEDx events are hosted by TED, a global nonprofit dedicated to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks. Wallace-Segall’s talk centered on education policy and the importance of empathetic, high-level creative writing instruction. Wallace-Segall explained, “When you start talking about grades, creativity often shuts down. A lot of teens say they don’t feel comfortable being their full selves in the classroom. This may lead to kids feeling disconnected, but sometimes it leads to depression. In the most extreme cases it leads to kids dropping out of school.”

Uncensored

For a key demographic served by Writopia, low-income and homeless students, mitigating the possibility of students’ dropping out of school is extremely important. The Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH) found in its report “A Tale of Two Students: Homelessness in New York City Public Schools” that after four years in high school, only 50 percent of homeless New York City students graduate on time, compared with 65 percent of all students; 15 percent of homeless students drop out.

ICPH explained in another report, “An Unstable Foundation: Factors that Impact Educational Attainment among Homeless Children,” that children who experience homelessness at a young age are more likely to demonstrate behavioral problems such as aggression, social withdrawal, depression, and anxiety, which can lead to academic, social, and economic difficulties. Writopia’s therapeutic effect on its students may help to offset some of the behavioral problems that can occur.

In addition, studies show that strong writing skills are essential in the professional arena, no matter the field. Over two-thirds of salaried jobs require a significant amount of written work. It is no surprise, then, that workers with good writing skills stand a much higher chance of advancing in their careers.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, surveying employers about the writing of recent graduates hired, found that 26 percent had substandard writing abilities and that 28 percent of those were so deficient in written-communication skills that they struggled with their basic duties. The National Commission on Writing estimated that top American companies spend over $3 billion a year, and state governments around $221 million per year, to foster employees’ writing skills.

The Key Is a Safe Space

The key to the program’s success is that the writing process takes place in an uncensored environment with the guidance of published authors and produced playwrights. At Writopia students find a creative and intellectual atmosphere that might not otherwise be available to them. For young people who struggle with verbal and written expression, the program offers a safe space to develop these skills. The students become comfortable with expressing themselves on paper, and many eventually acquire a love of writing.

“Writopia has grown so quickly because kids and teens need a safe place to be themselves ... to think, process, write, and share their ideas, experiences, and fantasies,” says Wallace-Segall. “Writopia has grown because our instructors are the warmest, most brilliant people in their cities—and because they are deeply invested in the well-being of youth. We have complex, dynamic conversations with them about each and every sentence, story development, and resolution in their stories rather than assess what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ This is something incredibly exciting for most kids and teens who are used to being ‘taught’ and ‘graded.’”

Writopia uses a student-centered approach to teach writing, allowing lessons to occur naturally in the course of the work. “Their work is generated from what the kids want to do and write, which leads to an authentic writing experience,” says Wallace-Segall. “These kids talk about and process the world together. They develop their pieces with, and in support of, one another. In the end, the pieces that emerge are extraordinary.” Students use tools and games to help start and share stories. Instructors then challenge students to set and achieve writing goals, encouraging them to complete at least one well-developed, polished piece over the course of the workshop.

“I love the moment when a writer is surprised by the power of his or her own work—when they discover they expressed something new and bold,” explains the associate director of camps and curriculum instructor for Writopia, Danielle Sheeler. “I love when a writer realizes that they have met their own goals and feel proud of their accomplishments.”

Writing is not the only skill improved at these workshops, however. Students learn effective verbal communication, editing, analysis, and leadership skills while working with their peers. The access they are given to technology gives the writers an opportunity to acquire computer skills necessary in today’s technologically driven workforce.

Writopia also does not turn anyone away for financial reasons. Fourteen percent of its program funding comes from donations or grants, such as David Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants. The other 86 percent of Writopia’s funding comes from its sliding-scale fees. Wallace-Segall explains, “There is a no-questions-asked, no-application, pay-what-you-can policy.”

"We Help Kids Find Their Voices”

Success stories flow out of Writopia Lab, with results both academic and emotional.

The Worldwide Plays Festival is just one of several programs offered by Writopia Lab. After-school and weekend workshops, a summer sleepaway camp, and help with college application essays are also offered. Some students have performed their poetry at the Nuyorican Poets Café, a famous New York City venue for poetry, hip-hop and other music, video, visual arts, comedy, and theater, which has a long tradition of providing performance opportunities for both rising and established artists.

Program participants have won numerous regional and national Scholastic Writing Awards, the nation’s most prestigious and longest-running writing competition for teens. Two Writopia participants won the National Gold Medal Portfolio Award, the highest Scholastic Art & Writing Awards honor, which includes a $10,000 scholarship.

What’s more, reluctant kids and teens are now considering themselves writers, many of those who hated writing now love it, and kids who already loved to write are now doing so at a higher level and more openly than ever before.

UncensoredWPF2

Wallace-Segall tells the story of a young man who came to the program just last week. “A mother told me that her son, a teen who had previously declared that he had no interest in college, stated that he wanted to ‘become a writer and go to Yale.’ I loved that. He spent one week here and he felt better about himself as a thinker and an artist—and he felt a part of the world in such a positive way.”

“They become more confident about expressing their feelings, thoughts, and experiences on the page. They feel that their stories are important and worth writing down and sharing,” says Sheeler.

Wallace-Segall continues, “We help kids find their voices and intellectualism. We ask them to think about why characters do what they do. They think on deep, beautiful, philosophical levels. Parents tell us that we have reawakened their children’s spirit.”

Parents report seeing an increased confidence in writing, improved grades and standardized test scores, strengthened relationships with teachers and friends, and more informed and lucidly expressed views of the world.

The instructors also find the program rewarding, for the students as well as themselves. Strong connections form between the instructors and students. Sheeler explains, “The teens often write memoirs and autobiographical poetry. They open up and share many personal life experiences. We establish a strong sense of trust.”

Rebecca Wallace-Segall loves helping teens “calm down, open up, laugh, and write more and more honest, wonderful work. I cry almost every day here because that process can be so intense.”

To protect the safety and privacy of those we interviewed, we have not included the full names of program participants and treatment centers.


Oct. 26, 2014

AnnelieHyattArticlePic
7th Grader, Annelie Hyatt, Performs at Writopia's Spoken Word

by humanities7 and Mr. Lakhaney

BSGE 7th grade Annelie Hyatt performed her spoken word poem titled, The Immaturity Dissection (full poem included below), at a recent event at Writopia's Spoken Word at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Annelie wrote this poem as part of a program she attends at Writopia Labs where she has been developing her writing for the past couple of years.

Annelie says that she was always into writing and then two or three years ago her mom helped her find this program. At Writopia ?there are instructors who are published authors in literary magazines and newspapers who come to teach kids who like writing once a week? Annelie explains. Each week the kids get to "sit on comfy couches and chrome book computers and at the start of the workshop you do some games or answer some prompts and then get into writing and at the end you get to share out your stories and get feedback." The poem featured in the video took her one or two days to write and then got revised. Since she started with the program she has written around 20 different stories and poems. She would recommend this program to other students who like to write.

In addition to writing and performing, Annelie interns at Writopia and works with some of the younger kids on their writing but sometimes she gets embarrassed because, as she explains, "some of them [the younger kids she works with] are taller than me so they think I'm one of the younger students. It's really embarrassing."

AnnelieHyattBSGEbanner

Eventually Annelie hopes to gather all of her written works and publish them. Here are links to two of her other performances:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fm70kmYZs5c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5HWbvBzQVE

Writopia Labs offers programs for kids aged 6-18 and according to their website, Writopia Lab is a not-for-profit organization that fosters joy, literacy, and critical thinking in children and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

Immaturity Dissection by Annelie Hyatt

Dear future self:

Yes, I am immature

because ignorance

is the dark matter

that makes up the universe

and you only see bodies but not

souls

and you're scared

to start believing again

because believers get hurt by society

and no one has time to dream

because the age of stories

is over

and you think you're mature

but maturity is an illusion

and adolescence

the death of not your body

but your soul

and in my world

you don't breath air

but the stuff of stars

and you can dream dreams

bigger than the sun

and no one will laugh at you

and I'm immature

with a wall

that blocks you out

because the maturity disease will not

kill me

like it already killed you

and in my world

I go on adventures

far more interesting than our lives

will ever be

and I'm sorry

that you had to miss out

on those adventures

because you wanted to get a head start in life

and I won't let adolescence break me down

because I'm stronger than adolescence

and I will shake the earth with my dreams

and I will never be forgotten

and I don't want you to be forgotten either

because money is a drug

and we're all addicted to it

and it makes the skies black

and the world smokey

and that murderer who was hired to

kill a little girl

went home to his family

and ate for the first time

in so many days

and that girl

looked down from the skies

and knew that she had made that family

so happy

and she forgave them

and that man at the store who sells those cigarettes

sells them for money

and doesn't feel the regret that used to well up in his heart

and at midnight that girl in her bedroom

wakes up

to see her mother

place a dollar bill under her pillow and throw

the tooth away in the trash

and she feels betrayed

and I might be broken down by adolescence

and my soul might die out

and I might become that ordinary adult

but believe me

there will always be a part of me that

will always believe

in you.


June 13, 2014

LATEST BEST OF LA: Educational Summer Activities For Kids In Los Angeles

kids in workshop Writopia Lab
First Presbyterian Church
1220 2nd St.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(323) 761-0453
www.writopialab.org

Making the art of creative writing fun is a positive step for all kids, even those who don?t (yet) see themselves as future JK Rowlings or Ernest Hemingways. This skill will be used throughout life in so many ways and in so many?jobs that any summer class that encourages a better understanding of how to scribe in English will further your kids? educational and lifetime advantages in any number of ways. With that said, Writopia Lab, located all over the city in Santa Monica, Silver Lake and Encino, gives kids instruction on how to write better by writing in all kinds of ways, from short stories to memoirs and beyond.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Writopia Lab StudentsJoin Genna Kohlhardt and Maddison Conforti from Writopia Lab DC for May's installment of the Northeast Library's continuing writing workshop series. For kids ages 10-13, Genna and Maddison will lead a fun creative writing workshop including warm-up games to get students inspired, writing exercises led by published instructors, and an end-of-day reading. Writopia Lab focuses on student-driven instruction, so attendees' writing will be inspired by ideas they're already interested in. Workshops provide a safe space for writers to create without judgment; students may write in whatever form they wish, and about whatever content they choose. Attendees are encouraged to bring a laptop or iPad if they have one; pen and paper will be provided. The workshop takes place on Saturday, May 10, at 2 p.m.

Boy WritingMaddison Conforti happily joined the DC Writopia team in June 2013. She graduated from DePauw University with a BA in English and Latin and has an MFA from Columbia College Chicago where she fell in love with the essay and teaching writing. Maddison's work has appeared in Eye on the World and South Loop Review. Originally from Indiana, Maddison also dabbles in literary translation and is an expert napper, wanderluster, and lover of all things Italian.

Genna joined the Writopia DC team in the fall of 2013. Genna's poems have been published or are forthcoming in Strange Machine, H_NGM_N, Fact-Simile, Jupiter 88 and The Anvil Lit Review. She received her MFA in poetry from Boise State University where she developed a love for teaching while working as teaching-writer and WITS resident at the Log Cabin Literary Center. In 2011 she founded Goodmorning Menagerie, a chapbook press dedicated to publishing works by well-known and emerging poets. Genna grew up in Colorado and graduated from the University of Colorado with a BA in English and Fine Art.

"Writopia Lab is a 501(c)(3) organization that fosters joy, creativity, and critical thinking through creative writing. We run creative writing workshops for kids ages 6 to 18. All of our workshops have a maximum of seven students and are led by a published author or produced playwright who has been fully trained in our time-tested methodology. In each of the past six years, our students have won more recognition for their writing than any other group of students in the nation."


March 13, 2014

St. Gregory seniors win national contest for 10-minute play
Arizona Teens

Some playwrights write a lifetime and never see their work on stage.

It took high school seniors Peter Chipman and Victoria Stiely just two days.

That s how long the St. Gregory College Preparatory School students had to collaborate on Set Back, a 10-minute comedy that has won a national competition funded by David Letterman's Worldwide Pants. It's headed to off-Broadway in May, where it will be part of the five-day Worldwide Plays Festival. This is not some low-budget reading it will be produced, designed, directed and performed by New York City-based theater professionals.

That s a big, big deal. And the $1,000 scholarship isn't bad, either.

Here s a look at how it all happened:

THE CONTEST

This is the fifth year New York City-based Writopia Lab has held this contest, open to students ages 6 to 18. Writopia is a 7-year-old nonprofit that offers workshops with professionals to young, budding creative writers across the country.

Five years ago, Writopia held its first national competition for young playwrights.

"We had an instructor who said he would love to produce some of the plays students had written," said Jeremy Wallace-Segall, the organization's chief operating officer. We gave him a $2,000 budget, and in a two-day festival he produced and directed 19 plays.

"The next year," Wallace-Segall said, they were prepared to double the budget. That's when Letterman s production company stepped in, handing over $50,000 for the play competition. That amount is now up to $60,000, and the gift allows for a bang-up festival.

We get submissions from all over the country," Wallace-Segall said. "This year, we got over 400. It was wonderful."

Judges for the 2014 competition included writers for The Late Show With David Letterman, filmmaker Finbarr Wilbrink and screenwriter Karl Gajdusek.

While submissions come from students who have attended the workshops, it s open to all young writers. Chipman and Stiely have not attended any Writopia events, but their drama teacher at St. Gregory, Lisa Bodden, had received a flier in the mail and decided it would be a good project for her drama students.

It was such a shot in the dark, Bodden said. But I knew the stakes were high, and the ultimate goal was the performance in New York. We had nothing to lose by trying.

THE WRITING TEAM

Chipman and Stiely decided to write the play despite the looming deadline, just two days away. Collaborating made sense to them.

We ve been friends since middle school, and we both write, Stiely, 18, said as she sat in St. Gregory s conference room Tuesday, Chipman at her side.

The two seem like lifelong friends they laugh easily together and sometimes finish each other's sentences. After brainstorming ideas for the play, they went their separate ways. We went on Google docs and alternated the writing back and forth, Stiely said. We would edit each other's stuff and offer ideas.

Their long friendship, and appreciation for each other's humor, fueled the story. "My humor is sarcasm, and Peter's is absurdity," Stiely explained. While she loves to write, she has no doubt that the play needed both of them to succeed.

It definitely wouldn't be so good without Peter," she said. I appreciate his humor so much.

Stiely started writing in earnest when she was in the eighth grade. Chipman started earlier than that, and has saved all his stories to prove it. "I write Tar Struck, episode-by-episode parodies of Star Trek," said Chipman, 17. He s been doing that since the fourth grade. Chipman also published a parody of fantasy fiction last year, An Epic of Novel Proportions (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform), which is available on Amazon.com.

THE PLAY

Set Back took the top honor for comedy in the high school category.

"Two actors walk on stage 10 minutes before curtain and realize the entire set is missing," Chipman said. "It was a huge set."

Indeed. The script refers to a diner, apartment, factory and underwater research station, now all gone. The props are, too.

The story takes place in real time, and while reading it you can sense the actors rising panic as they realize the gravity of the situation. The only prop they can find in the theater is a case of beans. As the clock ticks away, and an audience paying $12 a ticket is about to be seated, they scramble to see how they can make the play work.

"Hey, the scene where Roberto and Alex crash the car into the recently renovated zoo? one character says. We can build the car out of the cans by stacking them. ... And when it crashes, we just knock them all down."

HOW THEY HEARD

"We had both our email addresses on the script, but they only sent me one," said Chipman, who got the message late last week. He immediately texted Stiely with a bunch of jumbled letters that she understood to be screaming.

"I was totally confused," she said.

Realizing she was at a loss as to the reason for his excitement, he forwarded her the email notifying them of the win. "In the middle of dinner I read it and put my plate down which was a big deal for me," Stiely said.

WHAT IS NEXT

Chipman and Stiely will go to New York City for the May staging of their play. But after that, they are headed in different directions. Chipman plans to study computer science in college. The National Merit Scholarship finalist hasn't decided where yet, but his top choice is California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Stiely plans to stick to writing for now and is headed to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The liberal arts school is known for its strong writing program.


March 7, 2014

Writopia Lab Reading

This week we hosted a reading for Writopia Lab, a national community of young writers. These young people were incredible. Their passion for writing, so unique and fresh, was inspiring to everyone passing through. Multiple customers stopped to listen to these mature insights coming from such young minds. The topics came from a wide range and included all genres. Some read touching personal essays about challenging experiences, while others wrote pieces in prose that exhibited an advanced concept of the personal voice. This was an event that our whole staff was excited about, we hope to see these young people keep up with their passions and their talents.


March 18, 2013

EDUCATION
A Case for More Creative Writing—and Less Standardized Testing

By Rebecca Wallace-Segall

In this op-ed, Writopia founder Rebecca Wallace-Segall shares why we must create more safe spaces for kids to write.

Writopia Lab gives kids the change to express themselves through creative writing. (Photo c/o Writopia Lab) Each week last month, I packed six laptops into a backpack and traveled to the Clason’s Point Library in the Bronx to run a free writing workshop. At first, I had only planned on coming to the first session to help set up and oversee the workshop. That was until I worked with David Garcia, a teary-eyed eight-year-old, who wrote about a boy whose home was destroyed in a hurricane, and Zania Cousins, a 13-year-old African-American girl who is saddled by three younger sisters.

Zania wrote about running free through the city streets, in love, “with no sisters no waer in site.” Neither had heard of “quotation marks”—but both had vision and voices—and a profound need to reflect and write. I changed my schedule and co-ran the workshop over the following month.

We integrated literacy support into four weeks of rampant storytelling. We laughed and cried. There was a line out the door of kids who wanted to join us. Why?

“Because we can write whatever we want,” explained Zania. There is shrinking space for kids to write—and even read—fiction and memoirs during their schooling years. Teachers are increasingly forced to teach to the tests, and students are under more pressure than ever to focus only on testable materials.

And the truth is, even when given space to write in the past, that work was for the most part heavily censored by the school or self-censored by self-protective students.

Recently, a parent of an 11-year-old child at a top public school wrote on her Facebook page: “My son is losing 11 points on a science fiction writing assignment because it involves a serial killer... Except: It's only about a serial killer in that it's about a trio of students who use their chemistry smarts to make a truth serum that gets an evil vice principal to admit that he's a serial killer... Story has no guns, no gunplay, no corpses, no killing, no details about methods of killing—just the fact that a serial killer exists.”

How nerve-wracking for a child. An allusion in his writing caused him to be penalized. In one fell swoop, this once-enthusiastic writer immediately felt discouraged and disconnected from his school community.

In all fairness, teachers are under constant surveillance by their administration, the Board of Education, and their parent body. Censorship is embraced by all because most parents and teachers become anxious by the dark corners of youth experience and by the slim chance that anything horrific should happen at their school or to their child.

But it is possible to allow youth the deep pleasure of exploring character, aspects of themselves, and human behavior within narratives even in the confines of a school.

In 2006, I ran my first in-school, uncensored workshops and the participants won more Scholastic Writing Awards that year than any other group of writers in New York City. Since 2008, Writopia writers have won more national awards than any other teens in the entire country.

The secret is simple—a safe space. Writopia is a place where silly ideas are taken seriously and where serious ideas do not cause alarm. Because authentic, inspired writing is better writing. All writers know that when we feel pride in our work, we become more enthusiastic about revision and mechanical precision.

When visitors come to Writopia, they say: I had no idea that kids could write so well. This is because no one lets them.

And, after it all, the participants reap the greatest reward: a written record, documenting exactly how they were feeling, thinking, imagining at a certain moment in their lives. Most of us do not have such a thing because censorship of youth experience is as old as the Bible. But it's more urgent than ever that we encourage kids and teens to imagine new possibilities, and to write their thoughts and reflections in the form of fictional and personal narratives.

There is a literacy crisis at hand. American tenth graders place close to the bottom among developed nations on literacy exams, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education's 2011 Policy Brief. This is alarming for the U.S. as it compromises the nation’s capacity to compete in a knowledge-based economy.

Writing is a gatekeeper to the most promising jobs. According to a College Board report, “in today’s workplace writing is a ‘threshold skill’ for hiring and promotions.”

The answer is not additional standardized tests and monotonous test prep. Finland, for example, has managed to educate their youth and avoid a test prep culture. So can we—in our own, culture-appropriate way.

When visitors come to Writopia, they say: I had no idea that kids could write so well.

This is because no one lets them.


Writopia Lab in the News

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Writopia Lab fosters joy, literacy, and critical thinking in children and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

We have never turned away a student whose family was unable to pay for workshops. Fifty percent of our students attend on either partial or full scholarships.

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