Dear Tacoma Students

Dear Tacoma students,

All of us at write@253 are so honored to work with you. You are our heroes, every one of you, no exceptions. Here’s why.

Every week, our volunteers head to McCarver and Roosevelt elementary schools and First Creek, Jason Lee, Baker and Stewart middle schools. You, students, have been in school all day, and here we come,  when the end-of-school bell rings, with more projects for you.

Although you are often tired and hungry, sometimes frustrated and mad, often a little wild (who wouldn’t be after 6-7 hours of school?), you settle down to write stories, letters, and poems, to analyze and make art, to hear guest speakers, and to create movies. You tell us about yourself, through writing:

“Dear volunteers. My name is Tamara. I am in the 5th grade. I am ten years old. What makes me unique is that I will always be myself. I am most proud of my friends and family. When I grow up, I want to be a singer. My favorite subject in school is reading because it’s fun. I am scared of snakes.”

“Dear volunteers. My name is Helena. I am a person. I am ten years old. I am in fifth grade. I love reading and writing. I love different than other people. I am proud when I succeed in education and being myself. I am not proud when other people judge me. I walk away and talk to someone about it. I like to do sports. I play baseball a lot but I am interested in gymnastics. When I grow up I’m going to invent a time machine. Something that I am scared of, it is war. It is not nature’s way of peace.”

“Dear volunteers. My name is Pele. I’m in fifth grade, and I am ten years old. What makes me unique is that when I was one month, I almost died. I am proud when I have best friends to play with. My favorite subject is music because it is fun and we learn new stuff. I am good at making friends. I am scared of the dark and scary movies. I would create clay people, and I could get a lot of money and cars. Finally, I could change one thing in the world is to let my mom get me a new PS4. And change the world.”

“Dear volunteers. My name is Quentin. I’m in 4th grade and 10 years old. What makes me unique, I love books (I am not a girl, so what am I)? My favorite artists are Drake, Stevie Wonder, Kanye West and Michael Jackson. I’m most proud when my teachers congratulate me. My favorite subject is math (I’m not a nerd) because I’m the best at it. If I could create anything I would create flying cars if I could. Finally, if I could change one thing in the world, I would restart the world and tell everybody pollution is not nice and go to school!!!”

Students, you are all bright and beautiful, talented and tenacious. Thank you for letting us be even a small part of your education. We’ll do our best to make it a good one.

Love, write@253


Reverse the Summer Slide!

Summer camp!

Summer camp!

A key reason that students fall behind in school is the “summer slide” or “summer brain drain,” terms which remind us that kids whose families can afford to send them to summer camps, workshops and museums actually gain skills over the summer while kids whose families can’t, fall behind.  That’s not fair.

Write@253 was founded on the belief that all Tacoma children deserve a great education. Our free five- week summer camp program is designed to encourage a love of learning, creativity and confidence, character development, physical activity, meaningful relationships with peers and adults, and engagement with the Hilltop community. It’s for elementary and middle school students.


Each free weekly camp runs Monday-Friday, 10 am-3 pm at write@253, 1310 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. Lunch and snacks are provided. Here’s a sample of our camp schedule:

10-10:30:  Arrive, check in, have a snack, whole-group chat

10:30-11:  Book club/reading circle

11-noon:  Hilltop scavenger hunt/meet our neighbors

Noon-1:    Lunch and play at People’s Park

1-2:30       Main activity with guest instructor. Weekly themes include engineering, film, gardening, graphic novels, and global studies

2:30-3      End-of-day de-briefing, high fives, and kudos for kindness

Camp will be held the weeks of June 29, July 6, July 20, Aug. 3 and Aug. 10. We will take the weeks of July 13 and July 27 off. Kids may register for one or more weeks. For more information or to register, call (253) 460-4474 or e-mail:

plotting out the story

plotting out the story

History at a Poetry Slam

At write@253, we are truly thrilled and honored to support a beautiful new project:  the City of Destiny Poetry Slam: Hilltop edition. We can see it now: teens from throughout our community sharing their thoughts on one of our city’s best-known and most beloved neighborhoods, the Hilltop. We can’t wait to hear what our young people have to say.

We think that what makes this project uniquely and wonderfully Tacoma is the care and love with which it has been planned. Local historians and poets will lead four workshops to prepare contestants, ages 12-19, for the May 15 performance at Sure House Church. The top three poets will have custom posters, designed by local artists, that highlight their poems displayed through the city. The May 15 event, which begins at 6 pm, will also feature performances by local hip hop artists and poets. It’s free and open to the public. Sure House Church is located at 901 S. 10th St.

We so appreciate local poets and activists Nicci Montgomery and Michael Haeflinger and Tacoma Historic Preservation Coordinator Lauren Hoogkamer for their vision and work on this poetry slam. To Nicci, Michael and Lauren, this is not a one-shot deal — They want to create a movement of youth poetry and spoken word and an appreciation of the history of our city. It’s likely that similar events will be hosted in other Tacoma neighborhoods.

For more information and to register for the slam, people may contact Lauren at or


McCarver Scholars, Trayvon Martin and the Nearsighted Narwhal

Last Wednesday in the basement of McCarver Elementary School, an image of a young man in a hoodie appeared on the gray concrete wall as nearly 80 second through fifth graders finished their turkey and cheese sandwiches, mixed vegetables and applesauce.

“Does anyone know who this is?” asked Mr. Brendan, the fifth-grade team leader for the McCarver Scholars after-school program.

“Mr. Lamont!”

“Muhammad Ali!”

“Your brother!”

“You could say that,” responded Mr. Brendan, to the boy who shouted out the last guess. Then, he pulled his hoodie up over his head and told the story of Trayvon Martin, in honor of the third anniversary of the 17-year-old boy’s death. For 10 minutes or so, Brendan and the kids, ages 7-12, talked about power, privilege, integrity and the law. Brendan said that just for this day, the kids could wear their hoodies in school.

Write@253 is honored to work with the bright, beautiful and talented McCarver students and the dedicated and enthusiastic staff of Peace Community Center in the McCarver Scholars program. Every Wednesday, our volunteers lead writing activities and a blogging club.  For the past month, we’ve worked with students as they’ve gathered in the basement at cafeteria tables, sharpened pencils in hand, to write and illustrate graphic novels with characters as varied as Russell Wilson, Japanese wide-mouthed women and orphans.

We will publish their work and take many of them on a field trip later this month to the Near-Sighted Narwhal, a small, magical store on Tacoma’s 6th Avenue that houses more than 1,000 self-published books, zines and comics. The students will get to create their own zine and, we hope, feel what it’s like to be a real writer, to have a voice and a real audience for their words. We hope they like the feeling.

We hope they take it back to McCarver Elementary, where the annual student turnover rate has reached 179% in recent years due to severe poverty and housing issues. In  our city, kids who quality for free and reduced lunch, which includes nearly all of the McCarver scholars, are about half as likely to graduate from high school as their richer classmates.

The McCarver students are as bright, beautiful and talented as the children in wealthier Tacoma neighborhoods. They have voices that we all need to hear — and listen to.

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.