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A New Horizon

Written by Sally Griffin
October 17, 2011

The Afterschool Writers Club got its start when my beloved assistant principal at my high school was made principal of a Title One elementary school. As we talked about why she was picked for this school, the transition from high school to elementary thinking, what she would do with the students who are so much less affluent than the ones at my school, I made her a promise: I will come to your school and I will work with your students and writing. In the middle of the summer I got an email from her:

Okay Doc…

I am trying to come up with guidelines for students that we invite to take part in the club. Do you have a name for it???

How many students? Do we do separate groups? (i.e. boys one week and girls another or all together)

I’ve included grades 3-5 and I have a couple of teachers willing to rotate sessions so that it is not overwhelming. What will their responsibilities be until you arrive? I kind of would like you to coach the teachers so that they can carry on with or without you. Were you going to let the creative writing students participate and how often?

Let’s meet and fine tune this idea. I really think that it is going to be super!

Looking forward to speaking with you soon.

Lucretia R. Rice

Principal

Forest Heights Elementary School

Hi,

Okay. Give me the weekend to smoke this over. You have done great work. I do want my writing students to work with the kids and I will be glad to do some work with your teachers. Let’s keep the boys and girls together. that gives extra points of view. How many kids are you thinking about? If we have a lot, we might want to think about a group one and group two. You will know more about how to divide the grade levels. We might meet with the kids and then see if we need to split the fifth out and work toward writing for that blasted test if it doesn’t disappear.

I’d like to start with a literacy narrative where the kids write a story that has something to do with how they read and write or how they learned to read and write. After we get the stories written–a couple of drafting sessions and a polishing session–we will let them create a video of their literacy. This is where your teachers can really work with them until I get there. You will love the results of this and we can use it as part of the National Writing Project’s project and get these kids some recognition.

I want to work with your teachers so that eventually they can do it in the clubs and in the classroom so that kids don’t separate writing into school writing and other writing, but just writing as a literacy that we all have.

Sally g

Good Morning Cressie,

I have thought about this writers group all weekend and here are some initial plans. Could we meet at about 3:15 or 3:30 Tuesday (tomorrow) and sorta go over everything? My kids are so excited that they are buying supplies for the kids. My sorority is buying things for the kids. I bought 40 notebooks for them as well. So we have supplies. Here’s initial thinking on the plan.

Introduction:

Talk about being a writer.

What do you write?

When?

Do you tell stories?

When? How?What?

Somewhere we need to let them decorate their notebooks.

Write a story about your literacies:

How you read and write.

Who has helped you read and write?

This will lead to a literacy narrative and this has worked well to start kids off in other schools.

We can do so literacy mapping of their homes if you wish and bring in artifacts.

Kids will develop literacy narrative through numerous drafts that we will help them with.

(This helps them learn to draft, to include important details, to write to an authentic audience, to organize their thinking, etc. It also helps them to combine their home world with the school world so they see the validity of both and not school writing and home writing but just writing (learning) everywhere..

We video them telling their stories.

They use computers to create a video of their narratives.

We have a celebration. Do we do it at night and invite parents?

I’ll do some teacher training if you want where we talk about writing, they do some writing, and we work with home and school literacies and how we can combine them so the students feel that their worlds are part of the school worlds.. We’ll set up a computer plan and a weekly writing plan.

We will need:

Photo permission

Computer permissions

And to finalize the after school plan.

Also, I have Creative Writing II fourth period and I have been given release time for them to come over once a week and work with the kids. They are excited about the prospects of working with your students. I have thirteen kids in that class and they are all good kids. This might help alleviate some of the teacher gap between the time your school gets out and the time I get there as well.

If we can meet for a little while tomorrow afternoon that would be great.

Sally g

I chose my second year creative writing class to work with her students. I have had afterschool writing clubs at my school for my students, but I had never gone outside my school to create a writing club. When I approached my students, they immediately began to plan what they would tell the elementary students about writing. So I had the excitement from them.

My principal friend picked three grade levels (third, fourth, and fifth for participation, recruited teachers for the program, and asked the teachers to help her select twenty students for the club.

We are now working out some of the obstacles that have popped up. A big one is school end times. The elementary school dismisses at 2:15 pm and the high school at 3 pm. My high school class session is from 1:15 pm to 3 pm. These time factors are not insurmountable, but will require careful planning to make sure that time is not wasted. Part of the time factor will work itself out because the trip from the high school is about 15 minutes and allowing time for putting away books, getting to the student parking lot and so forth, I figure that we will arrive at the elementary school at approximately 1:45. That gives us 30 minutes of prep time. However, the principal could decide to do a pullout and take the children out of class thirty minutes early, which would give us more time with the children. Another part of this obstacle is that my students will have to leave the school at 3 pm because they have jobs, are members of sports teams, or have other afterschool obligations. That will leave me and the teachers that have been recruited to finish up with the elementary children. Another obstacle is that while the elementary children are in the same class for a year, the high school students will leave in January.

Who’s Who

The project includes three groups: the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students at Forest Heights Elementary School, the 10, 11, and 12 grade creative writing students at Forestview High School who went to work with the elementary grade students, and the teachers at the elementary school who wanted to work with the project. The project is in its infancy and will continue over the year. Some of the players will change in January when the high school students finish the course and will no longer be able to work at the school during their fourth-period class time. I do not know what the elementary school make up will be second semester, but I do not expect it to change—unless some children opt out, move, or for some other reason leave the program.

Plans began last summer when Lucretia Rice, an assistant principal at Forestview, was assigned to Forest Heights as principal; however, the project is still in its infancy. I visited with Lucretia

Forestview is located in the affluent area of Gastonia and serves students who are wealthy and students who are poor. A few students at Forestview are homeless, although that number is small. Forest Heights is located on the west side, or less affluent side of Gastonia. Its students are predominantly black and Hispanic, poor, and (Look this up) probably a large percent are homeless.

Students at Forestview and an educational sorority of which I am a member have donated pens, pencils, glue sticks, writers notebooks, and other supplies. Both Lucretia and I are working to get permission slips signed, drivers and riders assigned for the trips from the high school to the elementary school, a schedule of days that the afterschool writers club will meet. After school for Forest Heights begins at 2:30 pm while Forestview’s day ends at 3 pm. How to synchronize the times, the number of elementary students we can handle are other issues we are resolving. Plans are to have the program running within the next two weeks.

Three different groups are involved and I am interested in seeing how they work—what each brings to the conversation and what we learn about them. The teenagers are diverse. Levels of income are noticeable when the Forestview students bring in supplies for the Forest Heights students: some have brought in a few items; others have brought in magazines and other things they had a time and could share; some have brought in nothing; and the mother of one offered to purchase all the supplies we needed.

The Plan

First of all are the permissions that are mentioned in the emails and that’s where we are: getting all the permissions signed and in a file. Logistics will be a play-it-by-ear sort of thing that will work itself out as we move along. All of the students will write literacy narratives and my second-year students will share the literacy videos they made in the first-year writing class with the elementary students. Elementary students will create literacy narratives, talk about their narratives in filmed interviews, create their own literacy video from their literacy narratives. The high school students will be mentors for the elementary students.

What we hope to see happen:

Students in both high school and elementary school will recognize narratives from school and community that support the metanarrative theory—the empty phrases that they have heard for years (If you work hard you will get ahead; everybody can succeed; etc.). As they recognize the narratives, I am hoping that they will write more about that.

But Wait, There’s More

Last spring a group of young people came to our UNC-Charlotte Writing Project site from Oakland, Calif. Called Youth Roots, they were led by a young teacher who called himself simply “G.” These students have incredible drive, as does their teacher. As I planned the activities for our high school/elementary school combo, I thought back to G and the Youth Roots. We could do that. Sure we could. When Youth Roots finished their proposal and we sat at a nearby restaurant, G asked me, “So when is your group performing?” I sputtered and mumbled something about “soon.” This was the chance for the performance. I wrote in my notebook under things to do: Celebration. Riffing off of Youth Roots I want them to think and write about how “It is not what it is.” Once we get there with their thinking we can have them do a riff/rant (put explanation for this game in here) to talk about how these things affect all of us. From these golden lines—from the written narratives, the videos, and the riff/rants—we will create song for performance. Through writing their narratives, creating their videos, and their voices in the riff/rant, the students will become aware of their own power. With this will come the improvement in writing that the principal is looking for and the thrill of knowing we have pulled real writers to safety from the school writing earthquake. We will begin within the next two weeks to go to the school and to see where we are with the plan. I will have to work with the videos and the interviews, probably visiting the school and video-taping the students with their stories at times when the high schoolers are not there.

The Red Tape

We have collaborated to create these permission slips to cover use of student materials, photos of students, teenagers working with elementary schoolers, teenagers driving between schools, and future use of student work and pictures. We think all the bases are covered, but we always are ready for the next problem to rear its head. When it does, we have already been through so many hoops on our way to the project that we will just work together to counteract the next one.

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