The Bronx Students Who Heard the Sound

Community Word Mural by 7th graders at PS/MS 279, Bronx

Each Writers in the Schools (WITS) program is unique. Community Word Project  in New York City is a great example. All of the WITS programs do culminating events to celebrate what students have learned over the past year. Community Word is the only group to transalate the groups writing into art. Here is one example of a community mural. It was written and created by 7th grade students at PS/MS 279 in the Bronx. Community Word is led by the Founding Director, Michele Kotler.

2011 Bechtel Prize Deadline Approaches

Teachers & Writers Collaborative
Image via Wikipedia

Submissions for the 2011 Bechtel Prize are due on June 30. This year the Bechtel Prize will be judged by Patricia Hampl. Here is more information from the Teachers & Writers site:

Since 2004, Teachers & Writers Collaborative (T&W) has honored the author of an exemplary essay on literary arts education with the annual Bechtel Prize. Submissions for the award address important issues in creative writing education and/or literary studies.

For more information, click here.

Our Difficult Sunlight

Georgia Popoff, an independent teaching artist in central New York, has something to celebrate, a new publication. Her book, Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy & Social Justice in Classroom & Community, written in collaboration with Quraysh Ali Lansana, has just been released.  Georgia was a panelist in one of the WITS Alliance panels at the 2011 AWP Conference in Washington DC last week. You can read more about the book publication and launch schedule here.

The Writers in the Schools (WITS) Alliance Schedule – AWP 2011

  • Booth #307 in the Bookfair
  • Witsalliance.org on the web

Wednesday

4:30 – 5:45 PM
WITS Membership Meeting.
Thurgood Marshall West Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Thursday

9:00 – 10:15 AM
Panel: Realities of the Classroom—Personalities and Boundaries
Executive Room, Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

3:00 – 4:15 PM
Panel: A Classroom as Big as the World.

Virginia A Room, Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

4:30 – 5:45 PM
Reading: Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children’s Paintings

Delaware Suite Room, Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

7:00 – 8:15 PM WITS Alliance Reception
Maryland C, Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Friday

4:30 – 5:45 PM
Panel:  Poetry and Partnerships: The Critical Elements for Writers-in-the-Schools Programs

Thurgood Marshall East Room, Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Saturday

9:00 – 10:15 AM
Panel: Paths of Passion: WITS Links to University Teaching and Writing Careers
Virginia B Room, Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

10:30 -11:45 AM
Panel: Camps: Artful Paths for Summer Income
Thurgood Marshall East Room, Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

1:30 – 2:45 PM
Panel: We Were All Poets in the 3rd Grade: What Happened?
Virginia C Room, Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

WITS Alliance Schedule at AWP 2011

The WITS Alliance will be a literary co-sponsor of the AWP Conference 2011 in Washington, D.C. again this year. The dates are Feb. 2 – 5. For anyone interested in starting, joining, or learning more about the Writers in the Schools (WITS) movement, please join us for the following activities.

Wednesday, Feb. 2

12:00 – 5:00 PM
Marriott Wardman Park, Exhibition Level
Bookfair setup
Booth #307

4:30 – 5:45 PM
Thurgood Marshall West Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

W103. WITS Membership Meeting. (Robin Reagler) Writers in the Schools (WITS) Alliance invites current and prospective members to attend a general meeting led by Robin Reagler, Executive Director of WITS-Houston.

Thursday

9:00 – 10:15 AM
Executive Room
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

R119. Realities of the Classroom—Personalities and Boundaries [WITS Alliance]. (Michele Kotler, Giuseppe Taurino, Eli Hastings, Sherina Sharpe, Renée Watson) The classroom in the movies is not the classroom we walk into. How do we shape who we are as teaching artists? How do we create constructive boundaries with our students? How do we navigate gender, race, class, and age with the students we teach? How do we prepare ourselves for this work? How can we respect classroom legalities and our students’ rights? This panel will address the above in an active discussion about the sensitivity and toughness needed to be a successful writer in the school.

3:00 – 4:15 PM
Virginia A Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R199. [WITS Alliance] A Classroom as Big as the World. (Jane Creighton, Georgia A. Popoff, Loyal Miles, Jim Walker, Nicole Robinson) The New York City sidewalks of Frank O’Hara. The Idaho wilderness. A soul food restaurant in Indianapolis. Forget four walls; the most exciting writing in K-12 education is happening beyond the chalkboard. Writers and administrators from programs that teach writing to young people will talk about their experiences getting kids out of the box of the classroom to get out of the box with their writing.

4:30 – 5:45 PM (Related Event)
Delaware Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R211. Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children’s Paintings Dramatic Reading. (David Hassler, Ellen Bass, Dorianne Laux, Long Chu, Bruce Weigl, Alberto Ríos)Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children’s Paintings features original poems written by American children, veterans, and established poets in response to Vietnamese children’s paintings on peace and war collected by the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. Created by Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center & School of Art Galleries, with Soldier’s Heart, this exhibit and dramatic reading offers a timely testament to the emotional truth of war and peace. Readers range from award-winning poets to elementary-age children, presenting a readers’ theatre-style performance. To learn more about this project, visit http://www.speakpeace.net.

7:00 – 8:15 PM
Maryland C
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

A Reception Hosted by Writers in the Schools (WITS). Join Writers in the Schools (WITS) for a Reception.

Friday

4:30 – 5:45 PM
Thurgood Marshall East Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

F215. [WITS Alliance] Poetry and Partnerships: The Critical Elements for Writers-in-the-Schools Programs. (Melanie Moore, Alise Alousi, Loyal Miles, Robin Reagler, Nancy Daugherty, Rebecca Powers) The partnership between working writers and classroom teachers is at the heart of writers-in-the-schools programs, but it’s only one of the critical partnerships required to make a program happen. Panelists from three organizations that have WITS programs will offer insights into the other critical partnerships that enable effective writing initiatives to thrive in schools, including relationships with board members, funders, and key decision-makers for school districts.

Saturday

9:00 – 10:15 AM
Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

S114. (WITS ALLIANCE) Paths of Passion: WITS Links to University Teaching and Writing Careers. (Laura Long, Tiphanie Yanique, Cody Walker, Keya Mitra, Robert Fanning, Robin Davidson) A legacy is emerging as WITS teachers develop college-level teaching and writing careers. How does WITS experience help writers get jobs as professors, and then shape that teaching? How does it nurture one’s own writing? How does the WITS commitment to underserved students change the teacher, so art profoundly connects to pleasure, gift exchange, and political activism? The panelists are professors who have taught in diverse settings and write poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translation.

10:30 -11:45 AM
Thurgood Marshall East Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

S130. [WITS Alliance] Camps: Artful Paths for Summer Income. (Long Chu, Cecily Sailer, Megan McNamer, Janet Hurley) Writing outside the classroom takes us several easy steps toward helping students experience writing as fun, while also anchoring good writing habits during time off from school, and making parents happy. This heady cocktail can allow these tuition-based camps to more than pay their own way, by introducing a writing project and its creative programming in your area that can provide work for writers, and perhaps help launch a writers-in-the-schools program.

1:30 – 2:45 PM
Virginia C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

S180. [WITS Alliance]—We Were All Poets in the 3rd Grade: What Happened? (Jack McBride, Janine Joseph, Mary Rechner, Giuseppe Taurino, Jeanine Walker) WITS Writers will discuss their paths as writers and teachers, from when they fell in love with writing, how they were discouraged or made to feel anxious about the process, and how they subsequently came back to it. Investigating why K-12 students go from a willingness to engage creative writing (and all it entails: vulnerability, creativity, risk) to being afraid or indifferent, panelists will explore best teaching practices for re-engaging students and collaborating with classroom teachers.

WITS Alliance to Present at the 2011 AWP Conference

Again this year the WITS Alliance is proud to be a Literary Sponsor of the AWP Conference 2011 in Washington DC. If you are interested in starting or developing a Writers in the Schools program, WITS will be offering four days worth of activities to both assist and inspire you. We hope you will join us in DC. Here are the panel discussions. A complete schedule will be posted in the upcoming weeks.

Poetry and Partnerships: The Critical Elements for Writers-in-the-Schools Programs
Melanie Moore, Alise Alousi, Loyal Miles, Robin Reagler
The partnership between working writers and classroom teachers is at the heart of writers-in-the-schools programs, but it’s only one of the critical partnerships required to make a program happen. Panelists from three organizations that have WITS programs will offer insights into the other critical partnerships that enable effective writing initiatives to thrive in schools, including relationships with board members, with funders, and with key decision-makers for school districts.

We Were All Poets in the 3rd Grade: What Happened?
Jane Creighton, Jack McBride, Janine Joseph,  Mary Rechner, Giuseppe Taurino, Jeanine Walker
WITS Writers will discuss their paths as writers and teachers, from when they fell in love with writing, how they were discouraged or made to feel anxious about the process, and how they subsequently came back to it. Investigating why K-12 students go from a willingness to engage creative writing (and all it entails: vulnerability, creativity, risk) to being afraid or indifferent, panelists will explore best teaching practices for re-engaging students and collaborating with classroom teachers.

A Classroom as Big as the World
Georgia Popoff, David Hassler, Loyal Miles, Renee Simms, Jim Walker
The New York City sidewalks of Frank O’Hara. The Idaho wilderness. A soul food restaurant in Indianapolis. Forget four walls; the most exciting writing in K-12 education is happening beyond the chalkboard. Writers and administrators from programs that teach writing to young people will talk about their experiences getting kids out of the box of the classroom to get out of the box with their writing.

Camps: Artful Paths for Summer Income
Long Chu, Cecily Sailer, Megan McNamer, Janet Hurley
Writing outside the classroom takes us several easy steps toward helping students experience writing as fun, while anchoring good writing habits during time off from school and making parents very happy. This heady cocktail can allow these tuition-based camps to more than pay their own way, introducing a writing project and its creative programming in your area that can provide work for writers, and perhaps help launch a writers in the schools program.

Paths of Passion: WITS Links to University Teaching and Writing Careers
Laura Long, Tiphanie Yanique, Cody Walker, Keya Mitra, Robert Fanning, Robin Davidson
A legacy is emerging as WITS teachers develop college-level teaching and writing careers. How does WITS experience help writers get jobs as professors, and then shape that teaching? How does it nurture one’s own writing? How does the WITS commitment to underserved students change the teacher, so art profoundly connects to pleasure, gift exchange, and political activism? The panelists are professors who have taught in diverse settings and write poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translation.

Realities of the Classroom – Personalities and Boundaries
Michele Kotler, Giuseppe Taurino, Eli Hastings, Sherina Sharpe
The classroom in the movies is not the classroom we walk into. How do we shape who we are as teaching artists? How do create constructive boundaries with our students? How do we navigate gender, race, class and age with the students we teach? How do we prepare ourselves for this work? How can we respect classroom legalities and our students’ rights? This panel will address the above in an active discussion about the sensitivity and toughness needed to be a successful writer in the school.

WITS Alliance Joins Forces in Houston for First National Conference

Photo by Yvonne Feece

The Writers in the Schools (WITS) Alliance hosted its first national conference August 26 – 28 in downtown Houston, convening 15 literary arts groups to discuss how to turn America’s students into outstanding creative writers. The meeting combined intensive training sessions and professional development for 15 nonprofits representing each region of the U.S. Participants included administrators from Texas, New York, Michigan, Florida, Washington State, Indiana, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Ohio. The conference provided participants with the necessary tools for running a successful WITS-type program.

WITS flew in experts Michele Kotler and Keith Kamisnski, from New York’s Community Word Project (CWP) to demonstrate the Teaching Path model for curriculum development. Together with WITS Associate Director, Long Chu, the team led lessons on engaging student work and enforcing effective teaching strategies for under-served children.

On the last day of the program, WITS welcomed 79 writers to the 2010-2011 roster for an interactive orientation focusing on best practices in education and tips on planning a successful school year.  Kotler’s inspirational keynote address was the highlight of the morning followed by a community poem exercise that writers performed as a group – the largest collaborative piece ever recorded by CWP.  Each attendee walked away with a comprehensive lesson plan to use in their classrooms.  Says Josephine Jones of Colorado Humanities Center for the Book, “The Conclave renewed my passion for the work and prepared me with more tools for positive change than I can hope to use as I begin to assume responsibility for training the teaching writers in our program this year.  I’m honored to be part of the Alliance.”

Questions Without Answers by Nicole Callihan

“Is there anything in the world sadder

than a train standing in the rain?”

–Pablo Neruda

I’ve always loved Pablo Neruda’s poems. Ripe-apple-tender and wild-eyed, they’ve carried me from classroom to classroom for more than a decade as I’ve worked as a teaching artist in the New York Public Schools through Teachers & Writers Collaborative. One of my favorite lessons asks students to do nothing more than question the world. “Ask a question that can’t be answered,” I tell them. “Anything,” I say.  The students stare at me or gently rock or twirl hair around the tips of their fingers, but bit by bit—with the help of teachers and paraprofessionals and communication devices and speech therapists—their questions emerge.

Why don’t apples grow on pear trees?

Why doesn’t America have Founding Mothers?

Do broken hearts break things?

Why is night?

What is different? Why is different different?

I’ve been working with these same students for the past three springs, all of whom are middle school-aged and considered to be on the “lower end” of the autistic spectrum, and each time I return to them after a long city winter, they disarm me.  To be quite honest, it almost always feels like we’re starting from the very beginning. I hold up a poem on a piece of paper, and week after week, I ask them, “How do we know this is a poem?” And week after week, I wait. Today, lesson five, the room promised as much silence as ever, but then James spoke. “Space?” he said, more of a question than an answer. And I clapped and jumped, and Yes, James, yes, we know it’s a poem because there’s SPACE!

Eighteen months ago I gave birth to my daughter, Eva, and immediately she carved out this frighteningly tender spot in my heart. It’s strange because mornings, before I go teach, I do the same sort of exercises with her that I do to warm up my students. And this is your nose, and these are your toes, and where o where are those pretty elbows? The fact that my students are so much older than Eva—and so trapped in their pubescent early teenage bodies and in their very different working minds—is sometimes difficult for me to take.

Motherhood has cast my work with these students in a special, harsher light. If I think about it too hard—and sometimes I do because, I believe, as writers and artists and compassionate beings we must—this discrepancy threatens to disable me. It’s such a reminder of how unfair the world is, of how unequal we all are, of how many questions there are that fly so  wildly around refusing to be pinned down by any single answer.

It’s at those times that I have to remind myself to see the world a bit more like Neruda does—as unanswerable and surreal and magical, as a train standing in rain—knowing that, sometime soon, either the rain will stop or the train will pull away, and I will be left standing oh-so-near the tracks, weighed down only by poetry and love.

Nicole Callihan works with Teachers and Writers Collaborative, a sister organization  in New York City. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, Salt Hill, Washington Square, and New York Quarterly. She was a finalist for the Iowa Review’s Award for Literary Nonfiction and was named as Notable Reading for Best American Non-required Reading. She teaches at New York University and in schools and hospitals in New York City.

Way To Go, Austin!

Badgerdog Literary Publishing, the WITS Alliance member organization serving Austin, Texas, is set to launch a new creative writing workshop series for senior citizens in East Austin this spring. This new addition to Badgerdog’s slate of education programs is made possible by a generous grant from A Glimmer of Hope Foundation, Badgerdog’s first funder. Thanks to their support, Badgerdog will serve 50 seniors at two locations in an often under-served area of Austin. All participants will be published in a new anthology—Silver Voices in Ink.

An additional bit of good news: A Glimmer of Hope recently named Badgerdog Executive Director Melanie Moore its 2010 Angel of the Year. A Glimmer of Hope made the announcement with this video that follows Melanie’s story from a career in business to the inception of a literary nonprofit.

WITS Alliance Schedule for AWP 2010

Again this year the WITS Alliance will host a strand of events at the annual AWP Writing Conference in Denver. If you can join us, we’d love to see you there!

Wednesday, April 7th
4:30 PM – 5:45 PM Granite Room
Hyatt Regency, 3rd Floor
Membership Meeting
Thursday, April 8th
10:30 AM to 11:45 AM
Room 304 – CCC
Raising the Funds for Changing the World. This WITS Alliance-sponsored session focuses on strategies to fund creative writing programs for students in K-12 schools. This panel of funders and fundraisers will share their success stories in garnering support from individuals, foundations, corporations, government grant programs, and school budgets in order to place writers in the schools. (Amy Swauger, Michele Kotler, Robin Reagler, Amy Stolls, Elma Ruiz)
12:00 PM to 1:15 PM
Mineral Hall ­ Hyatt
Geek to Write: True Tales from the Literary Internet. The buzz words of technology—twitter, facebook, blurb, flickr, and YouTube—may sound bizarre to the uninitiated, but web applications offer writers options that were unthinkable even three years ago. On this panel, writers who are also educators will share their experiences in which they have used the new media technology to teach, learn, publish, and create stronger communities. (Robin Reagler, Nandi Comer, Brent Goodman, Amy King, Paul Munden, Jim Walker)
1:30 PM to 2:45 PM
Room 111 – CCC
Journey to Identity: Teaching Creative Writing to Immigrant Students. Beyond the debate on immigration, teaching writers have to deal with the very real issues of how to teach first and second-generation immigrant students. How do we encourage students to tell these often secret and untold stories? How do we create and manage trust? How do we navigate language barriers? This panel will explore these questions and other issues surrounding the topic. Panelists will share practical teaching ideas that writers can utilize in their classrooms. (Long Chu, Jose Luis Benavides, Margot Fortunato Galt, Ellen Hagen, Merna Ann Hecht, Sehba Sarwar)
7 p.m.  Location TBD WITS Alliance Reception
Friday, April 9th
12:00 PM – 1:15 PM
Rooms 210, 212 Colorado Convention Center,Street Level

1:30-2:45 PM

Room 109

Colorado Convention Center,

Street Level

Navigating Need: Teaching Creative Writing to Students with Disabilities. In educational jargon, the special needs label serves as a catch-all for students with disabilities who have been left behind by a highly standardized school curricula. WITS writers are asked to teach students who are deaf, blind, autistic, dysgraphic, or who have other disabilities, often without training or having these students identified. However, as these five teaching writers show through case studies, creative writing becomes an amazing bridge among all students, regardless of ability. (Jack McBride, Nicole Callihan, Sharon Ferranti, Jourdan Keith, Laren McClung, Giuseppe Taurino)

Starting a Writers in the Schools Program at Your University. (Melanie Moore, Chloe Honum, Sean Nevin, David Hassler, Terry Ann Thaxton) On this panel sponsored by the WITS Alliance, panelists discuss the pragmatic aspects of starting a Writers in the Schools outreach program. Topics include developing relationships with public schools, finding funding sources, and compensation/course credit for students teaching in the program. Program directors from the University of Arkansas, Arizona State University, the University of Central Florida, the Wick Poetry Center, and Badgerdog Literary Publishing will share their expertise.


Saturday, April 10thNoon

Room 111
Colorado Convention Center,

Street Level

What Do Kids Want? Building Community In and Around Schools. What do kids want from writing instruction? How do you figure out what kids want, and how do you go about providing it? Teachers and administrators from youth writing programs across the country share their experiences getting buy-in in order to build community in the classroom, after school, and beyond. (Rebecca Hoogs, Sheryl Noethe, Jeff Kass, David Hassler, Margot Kahn Case)