This has been such an incredible school year at Writopia across the country! We served over 5,000 invigorated kids and teens in safe space, censorship-free writing workshops at our labs, in schools, in partnership with community-based organizations, and at our sleepaway camp. Every day, we witnessed the key to effective writing instruction: inspiring student investment. Dozens and dozens of parents asked us this year: What is your secret? Why does my child love spending hours beyond her school schedule writing? The answer is simple: we help our kids and teens clear their minds of all the noise and expectations around them, and slowly identify what they want to write, and how they want to write it. During this process, our writers take more and more risks, as they explore elements of story-building, form, structure, and dimensions of craft. In other words, we treat them as any writer would want to be treated, and lo and behold, they begin their transformation into writers. As curricular constraints become more onerous in many schools, kids and teens at our labs often complain about their disconnectedness from their in-school writing. During this past year, we have been invited into dozens more classrooms than in the past, forging and deepening partnerships with schools and teachers, joining forces to reawaken children’s love of writing. Students literally cheer as our instructors enter their classrooms. When they’re with us, they know they can be themselves; they can write to meet their goals, rather than write to meet someone else’s expectations. Often, the only way adults can get kids to write is with a set of extrinsic rewards and punishments. But inspiring children and teens to love writing—and to want to learn how to do it better—wins them more than the possibility of an A. It transforms them into lifetime writers and confident thinkers, full of possibilities. Thank you for giving us the pleasure of going on this fun, often surprising, and always fulfilling journey with your children and students! Click here to take a look at our 2018-2019 impact.
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”
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”
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.
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”
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”
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.
The Sojourn Domestic Abuse Shelter’s second-home, where mothers and their children flee and hide from violent households, sits on a cul-de-sac without signage. When I’d started leading Writopia workshops here, nobody gave me an address. A woman on the phone directed me through stop signs and traffic lights. I’ve taught workshops here for a few months now, and still I don’t know the address, only how to get here. I buzz in and unhook the front gate’s latch. Some days, kids chase each other on tricycles across the lawn. Today’s quiet, and I sign in at the office, seeing only the receptionist. The rest of the home looks like a home: a kitchen; a living room, at which a baby often sits in his high chair, watching television; bedrooms and bathrooms. You wouldn’t know this home was different from the others in the neighborhood but for this office. Continue reading “Personal Reflections on a Safe Space to Heal and to Write by Lyndsay Hall”
by Janelle Williams, In-School and Outreach Lead Instructor
In the first year, first semester of my MFA in creative writing program, we discussed a short story by African American writer Dana Johnson, “Melvin in the Sixth Grade.” One of my favorite professors, a white man who lives on the Upper West Side, largely praised the story with one small aside- Johnson’s lyrical reference to Peabo Bryson, a Rhythm and Blues artist now in his late sixties.
“Raise your hand if you know who Peabo Bryson is,” my professor said in an effort to prove his point. I scanned the third floor room of the college’s epicenter, and decidedly raised my hand. I looked for *Matthew, who was older than me but younger than my dad, shades lighter than both of us, a high yellow that resembled chewy caramels, sitting at the far end of the long rectangular table. Matthew managed to reference Smokey Robinson and Snoop Dogg in his work, and we found each other quickly, smiling. Along with one other black writer, we were three hands raised, three out of twelve, the minority in our majority white common space.Continue reading “On Being a Present Black Writer”
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”