Writopia’s Longtime Partnership with ESPI

Each July is filled with our longtime deeply meaningful and exciting partnership camps! For a decade now,  Writopia has been running a special writing arts camp for dozens of creative and fun-loving children and teens at Homes for the Homeless’ Saratoga Family Inn. 

Starting seven years ago, we began working with 20-30 wonderful and gifted tweens from low-resourced areas who are selected by The Exam Schools Initiative (ESPI) as they prepare to apply to NYC’s specialized, magnet, highly selective high schools. It is a gift to us to brainstorm and help cultivate original short stories, films, and graphic novels with all of these beautiful young people who deserve all of the enrichment, support, and inspiration in the world. 

Students in a creative writing workshop and playing games during break time.

ESPI directors recently surveyed 50 of their alumni for feedback on how they may further benefit from ESPI support;  80% of them have named college essay support as a “top need.” So starting this summer, we have had the deep pleasure of working with some of our former middle school ESPI students, now highly engaged college applicants. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Affirmative Action, equal access to college access support systems has become even more urgent.    

Students in the graphic novel and filmmaking electives.

According to ESPI Founder, Andy McCord, “For ESPI students the Writopia week is a revelation. For students who have already begun to self-identify as readers and writers the experience is a homecoming. Many of these students continue on their own with Writopia in future years on scholarship. For other students, probably a majority, who are math kids who have never liked ELA, Writopia connects their innate verbal flair with a subject that had often seemed dull and restrictive in school. Our goals are explicitly academic, in that we seek to address the “excellence gap” that keeps many Black, Latinx, and low-income students out of the pipelines to schools like Hunter, Stuyvesant, and Bronx Science, but we find that a creative approach like Writopia is essential across disciplines to build deeper motivations that can underlie achievement at high levels as our students progress through school. At an organizational level, ESPI’s partnership with Writopia has been a model.”

The story and data behind Writopia’s 2023 professional development pilot, launched this winter with the NYCDOE Chancellor’s Office

By Rebecca Wallace-Segall

Within this essay, I  examine the ongoing youth literacy crisis in New York City and, along with it, two long-standing, opposing education policies—progressive and traditional—that have sought to address it. I argue that resisting dogmatic adherence to one or the other of these approaches, coupled with teacher-centered professional development opportunities that emphasize educators’ reconnection to the personal experience of writing, will improve classroom writing education goals. Over the course of a decade and a half, I co-designed a new educational framework that combines and elaborates upon the strengths of both approaches; over the past year, I co-designed a teacher-centered professional development opportunity for New York City public school teachers that allows them the space to apply that framework to their own writing and, ultimately, grow as both writers and writing educators. Inspired by John Kingdon’s open policy window theory, as a new administration took office in the city in 2022, I researched and connected with old and new contacts that lead a like-minded policy community within the Department of Education in order to implement and test this professional development project. In this paper, I imagine a city in which all writing teachers have access to joyful, teacher-centered writing workshops of their own, and the potential impacts this would have on youth; I suggest that building bridges between educators and writing experts, between progressive and traditional educators, and from high- to low-performing schools, may improve literacy education for public school youth in New York City.

Click here to read the full essay.

Click here for more information about how we can best serve your school.

National Newsletter 2022: Staff and Organizational Updates

Spotlight: Writopia Lab was profiled for CUNY TV!


  • Rebecca Wallace-Segall, Chief Executive Officer, published the Writopia founding and impact story in the Village Voice in 2022 and co-authored an article on partnering for literacy impact in the Afterschool Matters Journal. She is completing her Masters in Urban Education Policy at CUNY Graduate Center this winter.
  • Yael Schick, Co-Associate Executive Director, graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2022 with a Masters in Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship. At Harvard, she was a recipient of a Saul Zaentz Fellowship, awarded to emerging leaders in early childhood education.
  • Jeremy Wallace-Segall, Chief Operations Officer, completed a Certificate in Business Excellence at Columbia Business School‘s Social Leaders Program for Nonprofit Professionals.
  • Janelle Williams, Director of Programs and Outreach, had her novel, Gone Like Yesterday, accepted for publication by Tiny Reparations Books, forthcoming in February 2023.
  • Rita Feinstein, D.C. Regional Manager, had her narrative poetry compilation, Everything Is Real, published through Brain Mill Press.
  • John Manuel Arias’ debut novel, Where There Was Firewas accepted for publication by Flatiron Books.
  • Léna Roy, Bianca Turetsky, Rebecca Wallace-Segall, and Janelle Williams, whose proposed panel was accepted to the Association for Writing Programs conference forthcoming in Seattle in 2023. 
  • Rebecca Wallace-Segall’s session, co-proposed with Susan Matloff-Nieves, the Vice President of Innovation and Justice at Goddard Riverside, was accepted to the New York State Network for Youth Success conference.
    • Special thank you to the Pinkerton Foundation for their ongoing commitment to extending Writopia’s literacy impact throughout the broader after-school educational landscape.
  • Léna Roy, Director of Teen Programs, and Rob Roy, Director of Program Operations, launched Writopia’s first university-based residential program, Advanced Writing Seminar, at The New School in 2022.
  • Matthew Jellison, Senior Manager of Education, and Elsa Bermúdez, Los Angeles Regional Manager and WriCampia Co-Director, ran a free summer program for Portland Public Schools students.
  • Bianca Turetsky became our Associate Director of Programs.
  • Tom Flynn became our Director of Business Operations and Development.
  • Will Bond became our Manager of Digital Media and Communications.
  • Jocelyn Gottschalk became our Senior HR Manager.
  • Malcolm Knowles became a Program Manager.
  • Tasnim Hussain became a Program Manager.
  • Shanille Martin became our Registration and Debate Program Lead.
  • Michaela Florio became a Project Manager.
  • And a special congratulations to Danielle Sheeler, Co-Associate Executive Director, for the birth of her first baby, Maya Fae!

Instructors’ 2022 Publications

Welcome our 2022 New Full-Time Staff

  • Carly Sorenson, Instructor and Registration Associate
  • Christina McDowell, Registration and Outreach Coordinator; Instructor
  • Lizz Mangan, Private Sessions Coordinator
  • Jem Werner, Registration Associate
  • John Manuel Arias, Registration Coordinator
  • Matthew Wong, IT Specialist
  • Peter Quinn-Jacobs, Operations, Registration, and RPG Coordinator

Partnership Highlight

  • We have been serving juniors and seniors at WHEELS, Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School. This year their team has been internally measuring our impact on 80 of their writers. We are thrilled to start sharing their early findings with you! 

Writopia Publishing Lab Highlights

Specialty Program Highlights

  • WriCampia
    • Served 200 kids at our 11-day sleepaway camp in the Poconos. Enrollment is opening soon for our August 14th-August 25 2023 session!
    • Two films made in the Filmmaking Track at WriCampia were selected for the New York Short Film Festival. Congratulations to Sam Stearns for INERTIA and Castle Bloodgood and Moon Emigli for Worm On A Genius String!
  • Special thank you to Alex Tlatelpa, our Accounting and Operations Specialist, for bringing Mabel to WriCampia this year!
  • Worldwide Plays Festival
    • Produced 32 short plays live in Bryant Park.
Watch the plays from the festival in the playlist below!

Missed the student accomplishment newsletter in June? Check it out and let us know if you have more news to share! 

During these difficult financial times, our team continues to do great work. Please help us stay intact and continue to have impact into the new year. On behalf of our Board of Directors and our entire staff, thank you and happy holidays!
Support Writopia Lab

College Essay Spotlight

Our graduating seniors wrote dozens of individualistic, beautifully-crafted college essays at Writopia this year that helped college admissions teams get to know—and feel deeply connected to—them as people. I am excited to share two essays below because of the creative format the writers chose to employ and because of the high level of personal reflection and analysis they shared. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as they enjoyed writing them!   

Eliana’s Essay

“So, Eliana. What’s your sustained investigation? What’s the meaning behind this painting?” Ms. Fallon, my art teacher asks. It’s our monthly in-class critique, and it’s my turn to present my project. “Well, it’s a long story…” I begin to respond, reflecting over the moments that led me to where I was. I contain a multitude of histories and stories that no one can see, but that I feel deeply. These histories help shape who I am.  

I’m seven and visiting my maternal grandmother’s family in Finland. I learn how to play Old Maid from my great aunt and greet my cousin’s cows, feeding them chocolate chip cookies.  

I’m ten and my sister and I are visiting our paternal grandparents in Brussels for the first time without my parents. It is thrilling to be in a foreign country without our parents. We visit Le Grand Place and its museums, explore castles, play Rummikub, and light Shabbat candles.  

I’m thirteen and eating Sunday brunch with family and friends the day after my bat mitzvah. My father’s family is there, the ones who escaped Poland in the war and immigrated to Venezuela. Although I am tired from the beautiful chaos of the previous day, I feel encompassed by the love of all those who traveled from near and far to support me as I read Torah. Everyone speaks Spanish and English while eating bagels and arepas and telling me how much I’ve grown: “¿Me recuerdas? I changed your diapers!” I feel incredibly fortunate to have my father’s Venezuelan dishes and family every Sunday, allowing me to connect with my heritage through delicious food.  

I’m fourteen and walking the streets of Jerusalem with my family. I hear Hebrew all around me and notice Judaica stores on every third street. I visit the Western Wall and feel the 2000 years of history. I stand on the roof of a citadel and view the city around me, feeling connected to my heritage. I buy a necklace in Tzfat, which I will wear practically daily for the next few years. 

I’m sixteen and, while exploring ideas for paintings, I ask my grandpa, the lifelong educator, to tell me more about his side of the family. In response, I get a 100-page packet. Looking at my ancestors’ names, it hits me once again that barely over 150 years in the past, my ancestors were enslaved Africans. Some days later, my mom and I are eating lunch and processing how racial justice has improved since then, yet how much more progress is necessary. My grandpa, a 78-year-old Black man, a retired teacher and school superintendent, had just moved to New Hampshire for the summer, out of fear of both COVID-19 and getting shot by the police.   

I’m seventeen and creating my final portfolio for AP art. I paint the farm and Le Grand Place. I paint the streets of Tsfat and arepas. I paint a Torah in my arms and draw the Lodz ghetto. I paint dark hands in chains and a Bantu mask, learning more about African art in the process. When I present my work, my classmates are quiet, ask many questions, and say, “We didn’t know your family was so diverse.” I shrug it off. I pass; this is who I am. Just because my heritage isn’t visible at first glance doesn’t make it any less meaningful. Through my art, I can share my story and feel a little less unseen. Art has helped me feel more comfortable discussing my identity and enhanced my connection with my family. I now understand the power of sharing who I am with the world. When someone shares who they are, the world becomes a more incredible place.  

There is loneliness in feeling unseen, but there is fulfillment in knowing who I am and all that my ancestors have overcome to lead me to where I am now. 

Ailynn’s Essay

Two Minutes Till: I’m going to need full focus for what I’m about to do. I can feel the presence of my group mates in the room, even though I’m not looking at them. People give off energy, I think, whether they mean to or not, and I can feel theirs almost as strongly as my own. 

Noah is pacing, Jack is fiddling with his inhaler, Charlie is staring off into space, and Tomoko has mysteriously disappeared. An unspoken understanding passes between me and Noah: we are both terrified, but we can’t show it because that will make it real.

One Minute Till: We form a huddle, like a football team. Music can, in fact, be an athletic endeavor, especially in a chamber group. Everyone must be aware of each other, simply through peripheral vision and non-verbal communication. 

Noah tells us to try to just have fun. I translate: Play with wild abandon. We nod. This piece is so dramatic, we silently assure each other, it almost plays itself. Yet we are keenly aware of the lack of control we really have out there. A violin might fall out of tune. Someone might miss a measure. The panic might swallow us up. 

Twenty Seconds Till: We line up. The walls begin to close in, but I push them away and quiet my breathing. I don’t look up at the faces of the professors and students in the balconies, in case they can read my thoughts. I’ve had years of practice, but the better I am, the higher my expectations of myself are.

Time’s up: We bow, our voices reedy as we announce our names and what we’re playing: Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A minor, first movement. I sit down, smooth my purple dress out on the piano bench. I know this. Charlie looks scared, but determined. I nod and give her an assuring wink. We know this

I start my opening solo, letting my fingers linger lovingly on the keys before sound emerges. The cello part dances alongside me, her notes sometimes complementing mine and sometimes clashing purposefully. The others join us, sometimes in unison, sometimes forging their own paths. It feels like the first time I’m hearing it, getting lost in the beauty and emotion behind every phrase.

This is the moment I usually start to unravel. But I don’t. Instead, it’s as if the chaos of my life comes together. I know who I am, I know what I’m doing, I know why I like it. This is for me alone, it’s both this beautiful exploration into myself and an external break from the hectic nature of life and everything I’m interested in; it encompasses my love for history, my need for non-verbal communication, my desire to share with others something that is personal, precious, and instant. It speaks to my ability to empathize and internalize feelings, my love of good stories. Music ties my entire life together. It creates a bond between things that usually feel separate and makes me feel like a full, whole person.

Seven minutes later: This is what it’s supposed to feel like. Applause erupts around me from all sides. Full of adrenaline, I bow. The walls are where they are supposed to be. A light feeling grows in my chest–We did it. And I would do it all over again, just to feel that infinite, temporary joy for a few more minutes. It’s the first time I haven’t performed just to get through the piece. Instead, the melodies flowed through my veins and the world of the piece fully enveloped me in its arms. I smiled as I hit the last note. The breath I let out now is not one of relief, but wistfulness at having to leave the scene of this beautiful creation. This is what it’s supposed to feel like. I feel grounded, ready to take on the world.

I Am Curious…

by Bianca Turetsky

Brené Brown’s “Dare to Lead”

At our last virtual retreat we took an exercise from Brene Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, and through the process of elimination discovered what our core values truly are. In the busyness of day to day life, particularly these past two years, it’s not a question we often give ourselves the time to dig into. What really matters to me? These central beliefs guide us in both our personal and professional lives because as Brene points out, we only have one set of values. A lot of unhappiness and unease creep in when one’s values at work don’t align with their values in their personal and home lives.

We shut off our cameras and individually pondered over an extensive alphabetical list of values ranging from accountability to leadership to wisdom. We started by picking ten values, which was challenging enough, and then reluctantly culled our list down to two values. The values that act as our North Star, much like how I describe a log line in a novel to my novel writing workshop. Everyone’s values were different. It was hard tossing out creativity, community, success, and learning. I felt tremendous guilt crossing out family. But for the sake of the exercise, I did it. 

I was surprised at what I was left with: 

Joy and Curiosity 

Upon more reflection I realized that curiosity and joy felt like umbrella terms for many of the other values in my more expansive list. For me, joy includes humor, connection, well-being, optimism and love. Curiosity encompasses creativity, learning, and flexibility. When I looked at the two words again through this lens, they felt true to me.

Bianca teaching a workshop at WriCampia.

I have always loved how joy was one of the first words of Writopia’s mission statement: Writopia Lab fosters joy, literacy, and critical thinking in children and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing. If you are in a place of joy, you are more open to learning and community and growing. You are not coming from a place of fear. I’ve always tried to take a Marie Kondo approach to life – does the way I spend my days bring me joy? Because of course as we all know, the way you spend your days is the way you spend your life. Writing brings me joy. Working with kids brings me joy. Helping young writers tell their stories brings me joy. And seeing the joy these writers experience when they write a sentence or story they are proud of makes me feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to put this value into practice. 

Bianca assisting writers at a reading.

I lead my workshops coming from a place of curiosity. I genuinely want to learn more about who these writers are and how I can guide them to tell their truths. I’m curious, what story are you destined to tell? Through our strengths based approach, constructive feedback is offered in the form of questions: I’m curious, how does your character feel at this moment? I’m curious, what does this magical forest smell like? I’m curious, what inspired this hilarious talking cat? I’m curious, I’m curious… 

Even in her 90s, my grandmother is still the most dynamic person in the room. She has an insatiable curiosity that has never diminished. She is always learning new things, meeting new people, asking questions and actively listening to the answers. Not surprisingly, she was a beloved second grade teacher. A smaller group of us did this exercise a few years ago and I found myself with two different core values (“making a difference” and “creativity”). These are values that still strongly resonate with me. They definitely made my top 10 list this year. But a lot has changed in the world in a few years and I think when things seem really hard, I am actively leaning more towards joy. When the news seems confusing and scary, I am actively leaning towards curiosity. I plan to do the activity again in the future to see what resonates with me at that moment in my life. It’s exciting to know that even as adults we’re ever evolving. I hope to still be chasing joy with our young writers. And I’m curious to meet my future self and find out. 

Follow Their Lead: A Year of Teen Leadership

by Madeline Taylor & Kimberly Faith Waid 

At our national staff retreat in 2019, our full-time staff came together to focus on teen leadership and the ways we could empower our young writers within our community and beyond. We’d run programs in the past, and we were ready to take it to a new level: to guide writers to contribute their ideas, help produce events, and be the voice of the messaging that, after all, defines their passions. Our discussion centered primarily around the needs of our teen community; many of our teens had been involved in Writopia for many years and were ready for a new experience, in the midst of a world full of new challenges. We wanted to center our programs around our young writers’ passions and ideas so that we could provide the scaffolding and tools while allowing them the freedom to express their creativity in new, impactful ways.

Writopia Lab at Pride 2019

Our Enviroactivism club began after a teen entered the workshop space devastated by the impact of climate change and that conversation drew compassion and concern for the room at large. It became clear that this was a conversation these teens would like to be having but also a concern they were motivated to pursue actionable change to achieve. The group is student-led, instructor-mentored, and aims to empower kids and teens to use their voice to become leaders and environmental activists in their own neighborhoods. Originally bi-weekly meetings, the structure expanded to a monthly event series. In the past year, participants have brainstormed advocacy efforts to raise awareness around climate change, written thank you letters to firefighters and advocates, written urgent letters to representatives and corporate social responsibility managers, and engaged in the replies! They’ve probed outside of typical “environmental stresses” and explored urban planning and housing for the homeless with a guest speaker who educated them on the intersection of public health and sustainability. These topics informed them as citizens who will care for the health of any city they inhabit. Local participation and advocacy is vital and how wonderful that it was born from their creative writing workshop where they can tackle words and ideas without censorship but rather with wholehearted empathy and cultural consciousness. 

One of the best things about teen leadership is watching it grow and evolve as the teens themselves grow up from passionate youth into smart, strong, well-equipped young adults. A favorite example is the way that Writopia’s LGBTQ+ community has flourished thanks to teen leaders who committed to forging a space not just for themselves, but for their whole Writopia family. During the summer of 2017 at WriCampia (our sleepaway camp), we started Plus, a discussion/writing/hangout space for LGBTQ+ campers and anyone who wanted to have a place to learn more about gender and sexuality in a friendly, low-key environment. Over the next several years, we grew beyond WriCampia and into our school-year programming as well. For Pride 2019, a particularly significant year that marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we ran three different programs to reach more young writers than ever. From a queer movie night with poster-making, to an art and writing field trip at the Leslie-Lohman Museum, to the NYC Pride March itself, Writopia teens created powerful, fun, thoughtful spaces. 

As we reflected on our queer community’s evolution and the growth of our Enviroactivism group, we saw that in order to truly serve our kids, our role as educators must be to teach kids the toolkit they need to empower themselves; it’s incredible to watch how these empowered and equipped kids can take those tools to lift the needs of others as well.

A year after our initial conversations, when we gathered for our 2020 staff retreat, we had presentations prepared on the teen engagement programs we had started over the past year. Our retreat, however, turned into a huge planning session for Writopia Lab’s transition to online programming, which had to happen fast, as more cities started shelter-in-place orders. A few weeks later, once we had moved workshops on to Zoom and were getting in the groove of this strange time, we had a moment to stop and remember our teen leaders. Our next challenge: how could we continue to support our teen leaders and activists via online channels? How would Covid-19 affect these kids’ goals and plans?

It didn’t come as any surprise when we realized that these young leaders had continued their projects and started new, timely projects, all through their determination and hard work. Turning the Page, a group dedicated to writing about and destigmatizing mental health issues, has continued to meet every weekend; they are creating an anthology as well as sharing ideas for mental health support on their Instagram. The Next Chapter, a teen-led gun control advocacy group, continued to meet once a week to discuss future projects, including their involvement with the “Enough” plays project. They’re also accepting submissions for a zine about gun violence. Diatom, our new teen-run literary magazine, took the initiative to write acceptance letters and start curating their new issue, outside of meetings led by Writopia Staff. In our debate club, our older teens who are nationally ranked debaters are working with us to develop a new debate culture and format that goes beyond argument and rebuttal and celebrates problem solving as well. Enviroactivism has met monthly to process the impact of the virus on issues they’d covered prior like housing and climate. They’ve collaborated on earth day social media posts, a recipe exchange of common pantry items, and they traveled the Earth while staying home this month thanks to a Zoom viewing party of Our Planet. Our kids had the tools they needed to maintain their activism even — especially — during the most challenging time many of them have ever faced.

Covid-19 showed us clearly that the future of youth activism programs is dependent on our efforts as instructors and mentors to be alert to the questions of young people, reminding them that their voice is needed and deserves to be heard. In a time when young people are feeling weighed down by anxieties about the future, it’s vital that we foster literacy through creating spaces for writers to engage with their ideas, beliefs, and passions beyond the written page. Collectively, all of these programs will bring confidence and deep awareness to our young writers. Now is the time to hear and celebrate their passions, angers, and curiosities. Our present and our future will be filled with their voices.

Two Weeks Later by Lena Roy, Associate Creative Director of Programs, and Rebecca Wallace-Segall, Executive Director

It’s the first day of the staff retreat, 2020, March 12 to be exact. We are in the middle of nowhere in a beautiful retreat center in Connecticut, trees starting to bloom, purple crocuses pushing up their heads, reminding us that spring indeed does follow winter. COVID-19 still seems far enough away, and the impulse to come together as a team is strong enough that we haven’t canceled. We’re a small, close-knit group. Still, one of our regional managers is Zooming in because of a preexisting condition, and our team from Los Angeles has flown into the city and then turned back around and flown back home. There is passion to be together along with tension around what is to come.

We use staff retreats to look at the big picture — how can we further engage kids and our communities, how can we reach and impact more people? Last year was about meeting the demand for more Youth Leadership. This year’s retreat will be about our new Writopia Publishing Lab platform. During the retreat, we will also carve out time to develop our own writing, workshopping memoir, one act plays, poetry, and fiction.

But after the first day of the retreat, we sleep uneasily because we have heard about so many more school closures in the New York Metro Area. In the morning, we change our agenda and schedule. There is no longer space and time for big-picture thinking and lovely writing breaks. We need to immediately move from long-term visionary thinking and creative reinvigoration to short-term organizational crisis planning. 

We come together in a circle, some of us teary-eyed, everyone wanting to be part of the solution. We realize that this might be the last time together in a physical space for a long time. We realize that we won’t be with our writers in our cozy writing labs for months to come. What will this mean for those of our kids who rely on us as their main social outlet? What will it mean for our children from low-income backgrounds who don’t have laptops and reliable internet at home — and whose families may not be able to stay home with them and support homeschooling, or would face greater financial stress? What will it mean for the viability of Writopia Lab as an organization, and for the livelihood of the 27 people sitting in the room together?

We turn our agenda and attention for the day on moving to an on-line platform so that we can not only stay afloat, but also serve our mission of fostering joy, literacy and critical thinking through creative writing to kids and teens of all backgrounds. How will this work? Feeding off each other’s commitment and drive, we break into small brainstorming groups— the tech and systems people in one group, the programs people divided into others—to re-imagine and design an entire new Writopia world. When we come together a few hours later, we understand that, together as a team, we have the potential to not only keep our community intact, but also to reach new people across the country and even the world — especially those who don’t have access to a Writopia Lab brick-and-mortar lab. Zoom is going to  become our new best friend. 

A few hours later, we hear that New York City and NY State have both declared states of emergency. It won’t be long before the New York City public schools close. We have accomplished all that we can together, now it’s time to get ready to put it into practice. We pack up and leave that night, a day early. We have too much to do. We need to prepare our homes for long-term social distancing and sheltering-in-place. And we need to prepare for the immediate learning and launching of the new Writopia Lab era: online, emotionally connecting, intellectually stimulating writing workshops.    

Two weeks later, we have worked with almost 900 kids and teens across the country, and have received just as many warm smiles and relieved faces. We have loaned out laptops to those in need, extended our sliding-scale fee structure to the online space, and have developed a new a la carte online program that makes Writopia Lab especially financially accessible to those in need. We haven’t figured out how to reach every student we know; but we are reaching more and more each day.  

Two weeks later, most of us are in states that have shelter-in-place orders, and the number of those who are affected by the Novel Coronavirus has increased tenfold. We have learned of several Writopia Lab students from schools we taught at who are diagnosed with COVID-19, and some Writopia Lab students from our labs living with ill parents, fighting for their lives against COVID-19. While most of our community is healthy at home, self-quarantining without symptoms, we are listening to each other, supporting, inspiring, distracting, and entertaining each other — coming together as  an unbreakable community of creative writers and thinkers.

Two weeks later, despite the dramatic, successful move to online workshopping, we are financially hurting like so many others. But we will continue to grow and connect, finding new ways to be together and accessing the best of ourselves, even when we are processing the chaos around us. We need our creativity —  whether it be expressed through writing, dance, music, or art to connect us as humans, and we are blessed to be able to serve in this way.

Thank you to our full-time team, our instructors, our writers, and our writers’ parents for not only bearing with us, but for participating in this life-affirming movement, and for continuing to bring on the bloom of spring.

Reflections on the 2018-2019 Year at Writopia Lab

 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.

-Rebecca Wallace-Segall

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”