The Safety of Stories in an Unsafe World by Madeline L. Taylor, Registration Coordinator

My bus ride to work, down Columbus Avenue in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is frequently crowded with parents and young children en route to school. I love when I end up on the same bus as one particular mom and her two elementary-school-aged daughters. As the bus bumps along in its morning daze, the mom reads aloud in a quiet voice to the girls, who sit on either side of her and lean in close to listen. The first time I saw this family, the mom was reading A Wrinkle In Time — my childhood favorite, one that has endured into my adulthood — her voice intoning L’Engle’s wise and fabulous words as her daughters listened with bright, albeit slightly sleepy, eyes. My own eyes glistened a little as I was touched with memories of my own encounters with the book. I felt bereft when they closed the book and jumped off the bus; it’s hard to return to the mundane realities of our world when the enticements of another world await.

This morning, the family was reading the third book in the series, A Swiftly Tilting Planet. They were a few pages in, and when I sat down next to them, I overheard a quiet conversation. One of the girls asked what would happen if the book’s antagonist, a cruel dictator, started a nuclear war as he threatened to do. The mom responded that a nuclear war would destroy the entire world; that if one country attacked, another would attack in turn, and we would all be completely ruined. But the mom was quick to reassure them: this wouldn’t happen to us today. There are good people who will stop nuclear wars from happening.

They returned to reading; they returned to a world where nuclear war was a construction of fiction and where peace has a fighting chance of prevailing. But of course, the mom knew — as I do, as every adult knows, as increasingly more children know — that nuclear destruction is altogether too real a possibility. L’Engle wrote the book in 1978, when Cold War anxieties abounded and seeped into the collective cultural consciousness. Its relevance, one would hope, would have decreased by now, forty years later. But the storyline has only warped and developed and shifted into new, horrendous realities. We’ve had many valiant peacemakers, but the antagonists still overwhelm us. Continue reading “The Safety of Stories in an Unsafe World by Madeline L. Taylor, Registration Coordinator”

Bridging Creative and Essay Writing for Literacy by Milana Meytes, Essay Writing Curriculum Developer

In the era of Trump’s disdain for the humanities and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos’s unnerving tenure, educators are forced to defend the efficacy of the humanities, while finding new spaces and educational models for the humanities to thrive. Literacy education in America has been compartmentalized into two categories: uniform writing composition instruction or the untethered and elite world of the creative writing workshop. But can creative writing, the workshop as space and pedagogy be integrated into writing composition classrooms en masse? The mythical dichotomies between composition and creative writing are not serving either teachers nor students or the future of literacy in America. The respective pedagogical approaches to teaching each genre and form must be re-examined.

In 2007, an energetic and brazen new teacher entered my 7th grade ELA classroom on the Upper West Side. The agenda was grammar and composition, subject matters that were closely intertwined with my shame for my mother’s accented English and my self-consciousness of possessing a second rate tongue. Despite receiving extra reading and vocabulary lessons provided to me by the privilege of attending a private school in Manhattan — Grammar and composition were familiar foes. And this ELA teacher was no different, as I proceeded to disrupt the whole composition class with audible yawns and comments interspersed between the rigidity of the rules of a language that I was trying on. However, this teacher was not having it. As a first generation immigrant from the Soviet Union with a lucky scholarship and a blunt attitude, this teacher saw a story waiting to be told and written not just a pupil or tongue waiting to be put into submission. Rebecca Wallace-Segall pulled me aside and encouraged me to write a memoir based on my family’s immigration journey. A year later I had won recognition for my writing from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and found a sense of self and empowerment through language. As for Rebecca, she had left the classroom to embark on a journey based on a wild notion: to offer literacy through creative writing and the creative writing workshop to kids all across America. Continue reading “Bridging Creative and Essay Writing for Literacy by Milana Meytes, Essay Writing Curriculum Developer”

How to Talk About The Scholastic Awards’ Results by Writopia Founder Rebecca Wallace-Segall and Program Directors Yael Schick & Danielle Sheeler

This year’s results for the Regional Scholastic Writing Awards are intended to be announced in most regions on Friday, February 2nd at 3pm. Many of our writers will find out that their pieces were honored with honorable mentions, silver keys, and/or gold keys! We are so, so, happy for all of our teens who received positive feedback this year. It feels great to work hard and be heard and celebrated by people other than our own parents and Writopia instructors! Of course, not everyone wins recognition each year. Below, please find tips on what to say to your writer no matter the results.  

The Writer Who Wins Recognition

After big hugs and cheers, be as thoughtful as your writer is about what words you use to celebrate his or her success. I would like to urge you to praise the hard work, dedication, and courage that your writer invested into his or her writing this year. Carol Dweck and a growing body of researchers recommend refraining from praising children’s raw talent. Their research suggests that praising hard work and dedication leads to … more hard work and dedication! Continue reading “How to Talk About The Scholastic Awards’ Results by Writopia Founder Rebecca Wallace-Segall and Program Directors Yael Schick & Danielle Sheeler”

Writing & Dance: A Leap of Faith by Léna Roy, Westchester Regional Manager

A student of mine spontaneously leapt up and started moving to a peer’s piece of poetry during a summer camp workshop this past summer. This inspired a whole session of interpretive dance to poetry. Right away I thought of my daughter’s dance company, the Isadora Duncan Youth Ensemble, directed by the innovative Carrie Tron. I visited Carrie that week at the studio and shared my excitement and delight. Her response? ”Let’s collaborate!”

We decided that the Isadora Duncan Youth Ensemble would be a part of Writopia’s December Reading at the Katonah Library, and that I would pick three poems from three different Writopians to share with her, so that her students would have a chance to do their own original choreography. The IDYE is comprised of both kids and teens, thirteen girls ranging in age from 7-18. The dancing is about clearing away inhibitions and internal conflict so that the dancers can authentically respond to the music and to each other. It is about being true to yourself. Interpretive or improvisational dance is much like what we do in Writopia Lab to excavate the rich, interesting and varied thoughts of our students. Continue reading “Writing & Dance: A Leap of Faith by Léna Roy, Westchester Regional Manager”

Notes From an Anxious Camper by Bianca Turetsky, Brooklyn Regional Coordinator

Camps are already filling up their early spots for the summer. And the yearly debate between parents hoping their kids will open up to new adventures and kids nervous to leave home has come hot on its heels. I was one of the nervous kids. In fact I had my first panic attack when I was in the 7th grade. I didn’t know what it was at the time, I just assumed I was dying. It wasn’t until I was in college at Tufts and saw my first therapist that I realized these symptoms had a diagnosis and a name, anxiety disorder.

By that point I was already an English major; writing stories in my notebooks during class was the only way I could get through some lectures without feeling like I needed to escape the room. I never shared these stories with anyone at the time–I didn’t have a safe place to do that. Instead I had closets stacked with these secret notebooks, my history, written in tight blue ballpoint pen. Some of these notebooks ultimately turned into my three Time-Traveling Fashionista books, fantasy books, about a girl from CT who wants to escape her life, not so unlike myself. (Unfortunately I never got to time travel my way out of Fairfield Woods Middle School!) Continue reading “Notes From an Anxious Camper by Bianca Turetsky, Brooklyn Regional Coordinator”

Madeleine L’Engle’s Granddaughter Lena Roy on Listening as a Creative Act

“Because we fail to listen to people’s stories, we are becoming a fragmented human race.”
— Madeleine L’Engle, Sold into Egypt: Journeys Into Being Human

Listening is a creative act: it takes great imagination to be able to step into someone else’s world, into their truth. We not only need stories to survive, we need witnesses. Listening to someone else’s story is a form of intimacy, of generosity, of connecting, of piecing our own fragments back together.

November brings not only Thanksgiving, but Gran’s birthday. She would have been 99 this November 29th,  so at this time of the year I look to her words and her legacy for inspiration. Continue reading “Madeleine L’Engle’s Granddaughter Lena Roy on Listening as a Creative Act”

In Response to The NYTimes

By Rebecca Wallace-Segall, Danielle Sheeler, and Yael Schick

As literacy curriculum developers, we enjoyed the New York Times article “Why Kids Can’t Write.” But we were surprised by the limited view it provided into the cultural landscape of literacy education. While the writer acknowledged the importance of the synthesis of personal voice and direct grammar lessons, she profiled only educators who either resist teaching direct grammar lessons altogether or, on the other extreme, who flat out reject student-centered learning that promotes joy and the development of personal vision and voice. Continue reading “In Response to The NYTimes”