When Kids Tell Their Stories

When kids tell their stories, good things happen.

When kids write about their dreams and their challenges, when we learn about their families and their friends, when we sit next to them as they, with just a sharpened pencil and piece of blank white paper, try to make sense of their complicated lives, we see them as individuals, as younger versions of ourselves, trying to figure out how they will exist in the world.

It doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from, when they tell their stories, we can’t help but follow along and hope for good endings.

On Saturday, more than 30 volunteers helped Tacoma high school seniors write their personal essays for college applications. The students came from all Tacoma high schools. The volunteers were teachers, staff and students from our local colleges. Volunteers from Tacoma Community College, Pierce College, University of Washington Tacoma, University of Puget Sound and Evergreen State College descended on the downtown public library with a common goal: to help our Tacoma kids tell their stories, with clarity and precision and power, and get into college.

We heard stories about drumming with the Lincoln High School drum line, climbing the steep Stadium Bowl steps, and blowing glass and playing football at Wilson High School. We watched as students wrote of being left alone at age seven, selling tickets on the streets of Barcelona at age 14, and learning Korean through a Google search. We listened as a young man tried to articulate to a room full of strangers why he was searching for a college major, a job, a direction that would make him feel the real inner happiness he felt when he helped young children.

The Great Tacoma Personal Statement Day, organized by write@253, Graduate Tacoma, and education advocate Wendy Holcomb, was a success, any way you look at it. In our end-of-the-day surveys, all students said it was useful. All volunteers said they wanted to do it again.

We hope the stories we heard on Saturday help these students get into college. But the stories did more than that — they connected us and helped us begin to understand and trust each other.

Our Favorite Time of the Year

The people we love most in education share a strangely bittersweet feeling at the beginning of a new school year. The excitement is real; it’s in their bones — they love school and students and can’t wait to get back into their classrooms or cubbies so they can get to work, using what they’ve  learned over the summer to create rich environments in which all of their students might thrive.

But the shorter, cooler fall days also remind them of the very real challenges that Tacoma students, teachers and staff will face, barriers, hurdles, mountains that make it almost impossible for many students to learn, much less blossom.

Students in class on the first day of school may be hungry, homeless, sick, scared, bored or confused. There may be things in their lives so terrifying that they cannot talk about them, even to a trusted adult. There may be a new team of administrators trying something new to raise the test scores of a struggling school. There may be teachers discouraged by a standardized curriculum that leaves little room for creativity, experimentation and wonder. There will likely be so many students with so many special needs in one classroom that one teacher simply cannot reach them all. We wonder how in the world our educational system became so complicated and disjointed and crazy. We wonder about it all of the time.

Write@253 is honored to partner with so many Tacoma teachers, administrators and community partners who know that education ought to be better, who love all of Tacoma’s children, who refuse to blame students, teachers or schools for the difficulties we all face and who, instead, look upward to imagine what a rich and transformative education, one based on creativity, literacy and love for all Tacoma students, would look like.

This year, write@253 volunteers will work with students at Jason Lee, Giaudrone and First Creek Middle Schools, McCarver Elementary, the Salishan housing development and our Hilltop writing center. We’ll lead poetry, book and film clubs and student newspapers. We’ll continue to support a unique in-school writing center, assist high school seniors writing personal essays for their college applications, help kids with their homework, and offer writing and art workshops during the evenings and weekends.

As our good friend Fahren Johnson of the YMCA says, our stake is in the ground, and we’re ready to get to work.

 

First Creek Students Are Award-Winning Journalists (well, they should be)!

We are so proud of our First Creek Middle School student writers who, just before the holiday break, churned out a six-page student newspaper, packed with news stories, interviews, movie and book reviews, comics, creative writing, and even an unique word search puzzle and gossipy advice column. It’s so awesome, and the students are so smart and creative — we can’t wait for the next edition!

Every Tuesday and Thursday, through the cool and rainy autumn, about 25 students and five write@253 volunteers (plus or minus a few on any given day) were led by First Creek team leader Allison Muir as they brainstormed, argued, laughed, pondered, and wrote about newsworthy topics such as the death of Nelson Mandela and the leaving of their beloved principal, Brad Brown, who moved to the Kent School District. They reviewed The Hunger Games and World War Z, editorialized about the Miami Heat, and interviewed their peers, student soccer players and write@253 volunteers. They wrote powerful short stories titled “Slender,” “Hidden Angel,” “The Zombie Apocalypse is Coming,” “Loneliness,” “The Stranger,” and “My Special Gift.”

As any writer knows, doing this kind of work isn’t easy. Writing can be hard and frustrating, as well as amazing and beautiful. Whatever it is, writing gives students a chance to speak their minds, to learn about the world, to create something interesting and important, and the First Creek students were definitely up to the task. As Allison was putting the final touches on the newspaper layout, she noted, “I’m incredibly proud of our First Creek writers. Whether it’s a story about a snowman coming to life, a zombie apocalypse, or the soccer team, such creativity and heart went into the writing. Putting it all together was like a quiet meditation on the gift of working with a diverse group of beautifully brilliant children.  I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do this work.”

We’ll get the paper onto our website asap, but here’s the opening of the short story “Hidden Angel” by Fluffy, just to whet your appetite:

“But dad, this isn’t right. Every day you send me outside to end the lives of innocent families just because you think that’s the sacrifice you have to make so you can get to this so called ‘heaven’. If you ask me I think it’s pathetic, weak, and unnecessary.”

“It’s wrong.” I said.

“Well, sometimes in life you have to do things you don’t want to do, I know it’s hard but you have to trust that everything will be alright my little angel,” my dad said calmly, but how could he be so calm?

       “Trust? How can you put trust in ending an innocent life just because you think it’s going to help you get to heaven?” I screamed at him, unfortunately there was no point in trying to make him see how what he was making me do wasn’t right.

     “You’re still young, you couldn’t have understood even if I explained it to you in the simplest way.” It seemed he was challenging me to prove him wrong. I promised myself that someday I would be free of my father’s grasp, so I could finally be free of his wicked rules, and I would never have to do anything like this ever again.

     After dinner that night I went upstairs to my room, and sat by the window staring at the beautiful moon and stars wondering what it would be like to feel free or be free from this never ending nightmare …

Stay tuned. The rest of the story will appear soon!

In addition to Fluffy, First Creek students who contributed to the First Creek News include Michael Waller, Trevon Ragin-Purter, Josh Garcia, Givan Villagomez, Alex Strong, Tierney Allen, Sally Nguyen, Arianna Aiolupotea-Fisaga, Pink Sparkles, Austin Livingston, Cherry, Danyelle Drisdale, Matthew Rankin, Sock Monkey, Annie Vo, Miguel Torres, Tim Matushevskiy, Aliyah, Kayla, Denyse Morena, Laurenze El, Zahara Hamadi, and Ricardo Avila.

Great job, students. Keep creating. Keep writing. We want to hear what you have to say.

 

Why poems in an alley?

Because an alley is the perfect place for poetry.

Like a good poem, an alley is honest, stripped down, unadorned, offering moving, breath-taking , sometimes terrifying glimpses of beauty and ugliness. With loving care and a little sunlight, a rose garden can flourish in an alley. A guy can huddle in a doorway for the night, protected from the wind and rain. An alley is real life.

So we are thrilled that the Court C alley between South 11th and South 9th streets has become a canvas for language and art. We hope it’s just the first of many such transformations, and the write@253 team is looking forward to working with others in our community to insert more poetry into the daily lives of Tacomans.

The Court C installation, sponsored by Spaceworks Tacoma and Downtown on the Go, offers poetry, and, thus, stories, from all over our city. “Pedestrian Universe” by Gerry Sperry and “Sidewalks” by Kellie Richardson were both originally published in “wrist” magazine. The five “I Am From” poems come from students at First Creek Middle School in Tacoma’s eastside. Write@253 is honored to partner with “wrist” and First Creek to expose these voices to a wider audience. We believe that every person has a story, that there is dignity in every person. A poem like “I Am From  the Hilltop” offers a reader, any reader, a unique opportunity to see the humanity of the young writer, despite differences in backgrounds, cultures, or experiences. If we listen to each other’s stories, listen carefully, if we pay close attention to words, beautiful things can happen.

The rest of the poems were written during write@253’s after-school program or in our poetry workshop led by Renee Simms and Catalina O’Campo, writers and teachers at the University of Puget Sound and Evergreen State College. The poets, ranging in age from kindergartners to high school students, were encouraged to slow down, to look closely at their neighborhoods, to notice the details, and, then, to find precise words to express what they saw and felt.

The  accompanying illustrations were drawn by former Tacoma School of the Arts student Piper Foulon, now a music student at Pacific Lutheran University, who created images based on her own reading of the poems. We’d love to work with more writers, artists and schools as our poems in the alley project grows.

Creativity. Literacy. Love. For everyone. No exceptions. That’s what we believe in. Take a look at the alley, and let us know what you think.

Poems in the Alley

 

We love so many things about Tacoma, and one thing we love most is the willingness of Tacomans (Tacomers, Tacomites, Tacomaphiles … ) to try just about anything.

 

Earlier this year, write@253 staffer Sam Loete was wondering how we could get our students’ writing out into the public sphere. We know that all students are capable of writing really amazing stuff, whether it’s funny, serious, heartbreaking or, sometimes, just plain weird. We read their work all the time and want others to have the experience of seeing into a student’s mind, a student whose life and perspective may be very different from our own. We love that about writing.

 

So we applied for a Spaceworks project to put poetry on the walls of the downtown building on the corner of Market and S. 11th. Our proposal wasn’t accepted and, instead, two local artists will transform the space. We’ve seen the plans, and it’s going to be great. But the Spaceworks folks had a proposition for us:  Would we be interested in putting poetry in the alley behind the building, where there are a whole bunch of boarded up windows and doors that offer blank spaces that could be filled with words?

Of course we would. So now that corner of our city will have both art and poetry, and we can’t wait to get to work. Within the next few days, the Spaceworks team will be prepping the building for us, and our goal is to have poems in the alley by Sept. 1.  We may need some help with the installation, so if you are interested, let us know. And if you have an idea, share it with us. We’ll try just about anything.

 

 

 

The Opposite of Summer School

What’s more fun? Doing all sorts of creative arts and writing stuff or making your own cool movie? Don’t worry, you don’t have to choose. Write@253 can help you do both this summer!

Every Tuesday and Thursday, write@253 team members are out at Salishan in east Tacoma, leading fun art and writing activities during the free summer lunch program at the Family Investment Center. Students can grab a sandwich and some chocolate milk, tie dye a T-shirt, mess around with poetry, learn origami or do whatever else our creative volunteers come up with! We’re at the Family Investment Center, 1724 E. 44th St., off Portland Avenue. Drop by. We’d love to have you join us!

Are you a middle school or high school student? Do you like movies? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a movie director and boss a whole bunch of people around while you get to create your own masterpiece? Join us for the free (yep, free) Young  Filmmakers Workshop on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 2 and 3, from noon to 5 pm at our Hilltop  writing center, 1310 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

We are so excited that Tacoma Community College film  gurus Chris Betz and David Endicott will lead students through the movie-making process, and we understand the workshop will end with a celebration and viewing of the student movies. We can’t wait to see what they create, and families and friends will be welcome, of course! 

There is limited space, so register soon by e-mailing Mary Fox at mfox@tacomacc.edu or give her a call at (253) 460-4474.

What are you doing this summer?

You might think a normal team of volunteers, after a school year filled with tutoring, writing events, and spring break camp, would be ready to take the summer off. You’d probably be right, but write@253 volunteers are anything but normal. In fact, they are super hero volunteers!

We know, though, that the best super heroes are just human, so we’ll take a few weeks off in June to rest, huddle up, plan strategy and regroup. But as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder — we know that by the end of the month, we’ll miss our students, and we’ll look forward to meeting new kids.

Write@253 volunteers will lead summer writing activities on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Salishan and pitch in during Peace Camp at McCarver Elementary (tentative plans include encouraging budding journalists to create a camp newspaper)!  We’ll work with the amazing Catalina Ocampo on Tacoma’s version of a cartonera book project, help to plan a fun field day in July for Salishan families, and (fingers crossed while typing), there’s a really good chance that we will host a film camp at our Hilltop writing center.

Being a write@253 volunteer is a special job. You have to love kids and learning new stuff, you have to thrive in a culture of hard work, creativity, and controlled chaos. It helps a lot if you love Tacoma with all of your heart — but we’re happy to help that relationship to blossom! If this sounds like you, and anyone you know, please join us. We have a lot going on, and we need great help. Let us know!