It’s the start of a new school year. We are half way through the fourth week of our thirteenth year at Hart Middle School. That means Writing Club is now a teenager–an eighth grader. It wears a black uniform and no longer thinks any of my jokes are funny. We are about to ban it from dating.
We have gained so many new followers, here and on Facebook, that I thought it would be good to do a new introduction to the Workshop, in case anyone is still confused about how amazing we are. Last month I had to give a presentation to the DC Arts and Humanities Commission about our organization. As it turned out I didn’t get to say a tenth of what I had planned, but the notes shape up into a decent blog post.
So here it is. Written as though I were going to be heard rather than read, this is how I see the identity of the Writing Workshop.
At Our Core…
We are currently the only nonprofit operating an extracurricular program at Hart. There are other organizations that have come in and out for brief periods of time—we have been in these schools, serving this community, since 2000. Nancy’s actually been there since 1995. We’re the only creative writing program for Congress Heights students, and except for the marching band, we’re the only arts opportunity that Hart students have. There’s no chorus, there’s no art teacher. Up until last year there wasn’t a library in the school. We as an organization have a library, and so we were their only source of books.
Basically, the students in these schools have very very few chances for self expression. Almost none. And we are there to provide them with this one vital outlet when otherwise they would have nothing.
I see us as having a twofold mission, basically. The first part is to provide a high quality, professional arts education experience to our students. It’s not like they have other subpar options. They have no other options. So that gives us an incredible responsibility to be really good, to ensure that the way we teach them to approach creativity and think about language, and the way we instill in them the idea that these things are integral to life—we have to be very thorough and very thoughtful & have very high standards for ourselves.
The second part is to draw on the tradition of the arts as a refuge, as a place to cement your sense of self and take power over your experiences and traumas. That’s where we serve the kids who need it the most, the kids who maybe aren’t going to turn out to be poetry prodigies but who need that basic catharsis that writing provides. They need a place that tells them negative emotions are okay, that accepts and takes seriously the intense angers and sadnesses that they feel, as eleven and twelve year olds. That’s a really important part of what poetry can do.
We’re constantly balancing those two missions, which are slightly different but are also very intertwined, and we’re trying to serve a wide range of ability levels while providing each student individually with the things they need and the best possible experience.
What Makes Us Unique
There’s the fact that we’re the only after school arts opportunity for kids at this school (Hart). There’s the fact that we’re the only organization that works with teachers in these schools on a regular basis, goes into classrooms and makes a sustained commitment to growing students as artists.
But besides that, there are two things that make us, in my view, a unique organization, and are why I wouldn’t want to be working anywhere else in the city. Read the rest of this entry