Summer at WITS: Lessons Learned

Posted July 23, 2015 & filed under WITS People.

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In 2013, I began my freshman year at Rice University and had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to study history and do something positive for the world, but did not need frequent reminders from my Mechanical Engineering-focused friends to know that the job market is weak for history majors focused on social justice. I had spent the previous two summers working as a camp counselor, and knew that I loved working with and mentoring kids. After an information session with the Rice Teacher Education department, my career goal hit me like a ton of bricks: I would be a high school history teacher. Since then, I have been extremely focused on my teaching goals. Through the noble subject of history, I will give my students the inspiration and education needed to overcome structural inequality, achieve their educational and career dreams, and become activists for social justice in their communities. I probably take myself too seriously.

In pursuit of my teaching goals, I’ve spent the past eight weeks as a Writers in the Schools intern, observing writers and teachers in classrooms and workshops, teaching lessons myself, and assisting with camp logistics. As a prospective teacher, I was excited for the chance to improve my teaching, classroom management, and lesson planning through this internship. While my practical teaching abilities did improve this summer, my experiences with WITS most notably improved my perspective and attitude towards education.

While preparing to be a teacher, I have heard plenty of horror stories about dysfunctional schools suffering from internal strife, unreasonable administrators, overwhelmed teachers, and unmotivated students. Many of the best educators I have met stress the serious nature of their mission, struggling heroically against the socio-economic forces and lack of resources that reduce educational opportunity for students in urban public schools. While I try to focus on the positive when envisioning my future in education, I too fall into the trap of emphasizing the obstacles I will face as a public school teacher in Houston. We get lost in arguments about STAAR testing, funding inequities, and charter schools and forget that the subjects of these disagreements are children.

At WITS summer camps, I was able to forget the baggage surrounding education and enjoy learning alongside the students. WITS teachers write, sing, and act with their students, creating a classroom culture of joy and creativity. Given a safe space to take risks with their ideas, kids quickly blossom into authors with the ability to be silly and serious. First graders dance around with excitement about the play they are writing starring a talking pink ocelot. Awkward, quiet middle schoolers turn into confident poetry performers. Without the pressure of standardized testing, teachers can focus on nurturing a love of reading and writing, a positive classroom atmosphere, and step-by-step improvement in academic skills. To create this educational environment, WITS educators share lesson plans, plan curriculum together, and frequently teach as a team.

My grandiose big-picture goals of changing students’ lives and changing the world through my teaching remain. However, my WITS internship taught me that I must focus on the basics of what education should be: fascinating, joyful, and collaborative. If I focus on the big picture only, I will be overwhelmed. If I concentrate on creating a positive classroom culture like that found in a WITS classroom, I know my larger teaching goals will take care of themselves.

By Joel Thompson

Joel Thompson was an Educational Marketing Intern at WITS in 2015, sponsored by the Shell Nonprofit Internship Program. He will be a junior at Rice University this fall.

Summer Fun with Andy Roo

Posted June 9, 2015 & filed under free Houston event, Notebook, WITS People.

andy roo artWITS Writer Andrew Karnavas has a secret life. Shhhhhhhhh.

He will be doing a Kid’s Variety Show on the 2nd Saturday of each month this summer at Phoenicia. You can attend his show and then move on the the free WITS Writing  workshop at Discovery Green at 10:30.

Here’s more information from the Andrew’s (Any Roo’s) website:

MKT BAR at Phoenicia Specialty Foods Downtown is hosting a FREE summer series for kids! The first-ever MKT BAR Saturday Morning Kid’s Variety Show will be geared toward children ages 4 and up (and the young at heart), and will take place every second Saturday this summer: June 13, July 11 and August 8 from 9 to 10:30 a.m.

This family-friendly series, sponsored by Sessions Music with a portion of proceeds benefiting Artbridge Houston, will feature live music, magic and more from local children’s musician AndyRoo & the AndyRooniverse—who takes audiences on an adventure through the AndyRooniverse—and Houston-based magician David Rangel. There will also be special guest performances that aren’t just for kids—they’re by kids. Other activities will include crafts, coloring, drawing, creative writing and YUMMY! cookie decorating.

Attendees who pre-register will receive a free goody bag filled with YUMMY! treats, and door prizes will be provided courtesy of Children’s Museum of Houston. Refreshments such as breakfast bites, coffee, tea, juices and soft drinks will be available for purchase.

Admission is FREE with advance registration at AndyRoo.eventbrite.com, and free customer parking is available in the One Park Place garage on a first-come, first-served basis. **PLEASE NOTE** Joining this event does not guarantee entry. You must register for entry and the goody bag on Eventbrite.

The series is generously sponsored by Sessions Music, a revolutionary, new concept dedicated to helping people of all ages and skill levels achieve their modern and classical music dreams. Through an emphasis on individualized curriculum, performance opportunities, and state-of-the-art technology, Sessions Music provides a novel and superior approach to music education at three conveniently located music studios in the Houston area.

Writers’ Conference April 10th & 11th in Houston!

Posted April 10, 2015 & filed under Event, News, WITS People.

Register TODAY for HBU’s 3rd annual Writers’ Conference in Houston, Texas

April 10 & 11, 2015 on the campus of Houston Baptist University

WITS Writers Elizabeth Keel, Dulcie David, and Maryann Gremillion with Sandra Campbell from Houston Grand Opera will present dynamic, interactive workshops on Saturday. 

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Keynote Address:

An Evening with Scott Cairns: A Reading and a Yammering

Friday, April 10, 7:00 pm, at Belin Chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist University.

In this address, Scott Cairns — Guggenheim fellow, Dennis Levertov Award recipient, librettist, anthologist, and multi-award-winning author of numerous books of poetry and nonfiction — will read a selection of his work and talk about the writer’s/artist’s vocation.

 

See Register NOW! Page

  • Standard Registration is $35, which includes lunch Saturday.
  • Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Registration is $75, which includes lunch Saturday and 5.25 Continuing Professional Education hours.
  • HBU Students, Faculty, and Staff Registration is free – lunch is not included with the HBU-affiliate registration.

Complimentary notebooks, pens, coffee, tea, and water will be provided for everyone.

Individuals are responsible to reserve their own accommodations. Please see the Hotel Information link for more information.

 

Original post: March 13, 2015

 

Former WITS Writer Publishes 5th Novel

Posted March 24, 2015 & filed under Event, Fiction, WITS People.

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Need some literary plans this Friday night?  Join us for a fun, witty evening at Brazos Book Store to celebrate the publication of former WITS writer Katherine Center’s novel Happiness for Beginners.
Date:Mar 27th, 2015
Time: 7:00 pm
Cost: Free
Location: Brazos Book Store, 2421 Bissonnet Street, Houston, TX 77005

WITS Leaders Present at Leadership in the Arts Summit

Posted & filed under Event, News, WITS People.

Join WITS Executive Director Robin Reagler and WITS Board Member Shannon Buggs at the 2015 Leadership in the Arts Summit! Look below for information about how to register for this informative and inspiring event.

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April 6, 2015
Student Center Ballroom
9:30 – 5pm
Registration opens at 8:30am,
program begins at 9:30

Free – registration required

The upcoming Summit focuses on the best practices and ramifications of audience engagement initiatives that move the arts from a transactional exchange to a long-term stewardship model.   With the shifts in demographics, technology, funding streams and an increase in “competition,” many organizations nation-wide are attempting a broader array of tools to engage audiences.  Efforts range from increased artist engagement, marketing efforts, technology-initiatives, and advisory groups and special event programming. These initiatives call for new competencies, new levels of partnership and working outside of comfort zones.

The day will be moderated by Dr. Paul Bonin-Rodriguez who gave the opening keynote at last year’s summit.

The presentations will be livestreamed for an online audience.

Logistics: Directions & Parking – via GoogleMaps.

The 2015 Leadership in the Arts Summit is sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the UH Arts initiative with support from the UH Center for Public History Lecture Series and the Houston Endowment.

New Novel by WITS Writer Released

Posted March 17, 2015 & filed under Fiction, News, WITS People.

Author-pic-767x1024Whisper HollowNews to celebrate! Chris Cander’s novel Whisper Hollow is released today! It’s a multi-generational story that focuses on the lives of three women living in a coal-mining town in West Virginia.

 

Kirkus Reviews says, “Cander divinely delves into multiple points of view, crafting a collage of vibrant, layered characters while charting six decades of poignant, precise moments. A distinctive novel that sublimely measures the distressed though determined heartbeat of a small mountain community.”
Order your copy today and check out the touring schedule here. Congrats, Chris!

 

 

Guest Post by WITS Writer Gloria Alvarez

Posted March 5, 2015 & filed under Classroom Reflections, Lesson Plan, Notebook, Student Writing, WITS People.

Mischievians Invade Meadow Wood Elementary!

By Gloria Alvarez

Meadow Wood ElemMy cooperating teachers at Meadow Wood Elementary, Tabitha Peña and Hali House, are the best a WITS writer could ask for:  enthusiastic, supportive, and eager to extend WITS lessons to their own teaching.  We exchange book suggestions, ideas for revision, and strategies for reaching underperforming students.  They open their classrooms to me and work alongside the kids during WITS.

One recent effort so inspired Ms. House that she made it her own.  I’d brought in William Joyce’s The Mischievians, a book about those mysterious creatures swipe TV remotes and cell phones, mislay or devour homework, and generally cause embarrassment and trouble.

We both love Joyce’s work, including Rolie Polie Olie and the Christmas tale Santa Calls.  I’d chosen The Mischievians because it’s so funny: everyone relates to the misplaced iPad or mismatched socks. The illustrations are just as clever.

The story follows a Q & A format: the questions in a child’s voice and the answer like a formal encyclopedia entry.  We read sections of the book, the students brainstormed new Mischievians, and finally they wrote their own questions and answers.

The students completed their drafts and read some aloud.  We will revisit the stories in several weeks to select and revise pieces for our class anthology.  For now, for me, the lesson was over.

But not for Ms. House.  She promptly purchased her own copy of The Mischievians for the classroom and displayed it on an easel at her desk.  Ms. House read their pieces, providing feedback and editing advice.  After allotting class time to revise and recopy their work with illustrations, she created a bulletin board to display all the finished pieces.

“They turned out great,” House said.  “Everyone had fun with it.”

I think so, too.  I was beyond thrilled that a lesson—a new, untested lesson at that—had struck such a chord with both students and teacher.  Here are some samples.

Boy at Meadow WoodThe TalkeyMer TalkyPants Mischievian

By Jonathan

Q: Whenever I’m supposed to be quiet, I whisper to my neighbor.  Then my voice gets louder until I get into trouble.  Why does this happen?

A:  There is a Mischievian on the loose called TalkeyMer, TalkeyPants.

Q: Where are they?

A: There are four of them in your mouth: Down, Up, Right and Left.

Q: How do they make you talk?

A: They jump up and down and make your mouth talk.  Once your mouth is moving, your voice wants to talk.  They jump harder and harder until your voice gets louder.

Former WITS Writers Read at Blaffer Art Museum Innovation Series

Posted February 10, 2015 & filed under Event, Fiction, News, Poem, WITS People.

Don’t miss former WITS writers Lacy, Nancy, Jameelah, and David at the upcoming Blaffer Art Museum Innovation Series event on Feb. 17, 4 p.m.
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Here is information about this special series from the Blaffer website:

In both the arts and the sciences, if we do our jobs well, it never leads to a final answer — always to more questions.” — Janet Biggs

The Blaffer Art Museum Innovation Series is the most ambitious lineup of public programs the museum has ever organized around a single exhibition. Janet Biggs: Echo of the Unknown features works inspired by the artist’s memories of the effects of Alzheimer’s on family members. Combining video, sound and objects, this multidimensional exhibition draws on heroic stories of public figures coping with the disease and research conducted with neurologists and geoscientists to raise fundamental questions about how we become—and lose our sense of—who we are.

Designed to amplify the exhibition’s role as a catalyst for cross-disciplinary learning, the series’ lectures, presentations, gallery talks and interactive programs will highlight collaborations across the UH community and beyond.

Please attend “Memory & Identity: Five Writers Talk about the Difficult & Dynamic Relationship Between the Two” with Peter Turchi, author of A Muse & A MazeLacy M. Johnson, author of The Other SideNancy Pearson, author of Two Minutes of LightJameelah Lang, Ph.D candidate, UH Creative Writing Program; & David Stuart MacLean, author of The Answer to the Riddle is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia.

WITS Student Featured in The Buzz

Posted January 26, 2015 & filed under Student Writing, WITS People.

10888867_990120621002537_69896790164733703_nWITS Student Rohan Gupta is the BUZZ Kid of the month. He writes about writing and how his WITS experience has changed his life in the most recent issue. Here’s an excerpt:

I love writing, and it’s important because I put my ideas into it. Writing is permanent. It can be cherished forever. My writing will change as I get older. It will make more sense, and I’ll use bigger words. Writing is fun. It comes in many different forms, and can be found everywhere. As you can see, my life of writing will always go with me.

To see the entire article, click here.

WITS Writers To Read at Rudyard’s

Posted January 21, 2015 & filed under Event, WITS People.

katiecondon2Join us Friday, January 23rd, at Rudyard’s British Pub (2010 Waugh Drive) at 7 PM to clap and cheer for WITS writers Katie Condon and Carlos Hernandez who will join J.S.A. Lowe on stage as part of the Gulf Coast Reading Series.

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University of Houston’s Gulf Coast Journal hosts this reading series to introduce up-and-coming authors to new audiences. To learn more about the Gulf Coast journal, please visit www.gulfcoastmag.org.

Former WITS Writer’s Memoir Tops List of 2014 Books

Posted December 10, 2014 & filed under News, WITS People.

LacyJohnson In the latest issue of KIRKUS REVIEWS, WITS writer Lacy M. Johnson’s THE OTHER SIDE: A MEMOIR is listed as one of the top memoirs of 2014. Founded in 1933, Kirkus has been serving book lovers for over 80 years. Kirkus Reviews magazine gives the scoop on notable books about to be released and provides thoughtful reviews of the best fiction, nonfiction, children’s,and teen books. Congratulations to Lacy!

Hot Off the Press!

Posted September 25, 2014 & filed under Press, WITS People.

Check out these new publications by current and former WITS writers! Congrats to all of you!

Copper Canyon Press recently published Jericho Brown’s book of poems, The New Testament. Jericho currently teaches at Emory University and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Anaphora Literary Press just published Merrilee Cunningham’s book Something Will Come to Us, a poetry collection about love, cats, dogs, the city and the country.

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Boot in the Door Publications published the novel Phantom’s Dance by WITS writer Lesa Howard. It is a re-telling of the Phantom of the Opera story and follows a girl’s journey to succeed at a prestigious dance academy.

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Speak! Poet on Sunday

Posted July 10, 2014 & filed under Event, WITS People.

 

Speak!Poet, the new poetry and interview series, hosts its second event Sunday, July 20, 2-3 p.m. at Brazos Bookstore. Featured readers are WITS Writer Dulce “Digh” Veluthukaran, and Jonathan Moody.

After the two poets read, a discussion will follow with the poets about their work. Speak!Poet is moderated by Winston Derden, who co-produces the event with Stephen Gros. The event is free and open to the public.

Meta-Four’s Jordan Makes Houston 100 Creatives!

Posted May 10, 2014 & filed under News, Press, WITS People.

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Congratulations to Meta-Four Houston student Jordan Simpson, named by the Houston Press to their top 100 Creatives list. Last year Jordan and his team-mates won 1st place in the Texas Youth Poetry Slam. This summer they will represent Houston at the International Brave New Voices Festival in Philadelphia.

Student-Teacher Spotlight

Posted May 5, 2014 & filed under Classroom Reflections, WITS People.

Teacher Student PhotoWriters in the Schools (WITS) depends on the enthusiasm and energy of many wonderful partners.

Today we recognize one teacher and one student in our Student-Teacher Spotlight.

Mrs. Borrego and 2nd grade student Livni Hernandez both participate in the Writers in the Schools (WITS) program at Eugene Field Elementary.

Below they answer a few questions about their WITS experience:

Why is writing important for 2nd graders?

Mrs. Borrego: Writing is an important skill for 2nd graders because it helps them to develop their critical thinking skills, creativity, and communication. I always say, “Writing says a lot about my students,” meaning that I can see the growth they have made throughout the year just by looking at their beginning, middle, and end-of-year writing.

What are you most proud of about your student writers this year?

Mrs. Borrego: I am proud of the imagination that my students have put into their writing and the usage of words. They have made tremendous growth, from not being able to write a complete sentence to writing whole passages.

How has WITS helped you to accomplish your writing goals?

Mrs. Borrego: WITS has taught me how to bring creativity into the classroom by bringing in prompts, reading books, and providing students with a word bank.

What do you like best about creative writing?

Livni: What I like best is thinking about everything you like and writing about it. The hardest part is that sometimes you have so many ideas that they can’t fit onto one page.

If you could publish a book about any topic you wanted, what would the title be?

Livni: The title of my book would be “The Broken Heart” because it will tell you a sad story and make your heart break.

What was your favorite WITS lesson this year?

Livni: My favorite lesson was writing about a pair of high-heeled shoes because I got to imagine being those sparkly shoes for a day.

My Life as a Pair of High-Heeled Shoes

     I am a pair of high-heeled shoes that are as glittery as diamonds on a pretty costume. I am as beautiful as a mother’s face and as smooth as dolphin’s skin. I shine like silver on a shield.

One day a girl wore me to a party with lots of beautiful lights. Then she wore me to a wedding with love. I looked perfect on her.

Then, on the way home, it was so late. My owner fell. One of my tall heels broke off into the street. Oh, no! The girl didn’t fix me. She just put me in the dumpster, and I never saw the world again.

Revision Strategy #2: ThoughtShots

Posted December 9, 2013 & filed under Lesson Plan, Notebook, Student Writing, WITS People.

The idea of the thoughtshot comes from The Reviser’s Toolbox, a great book by Barry Lane.

After a student finishes a story, encourage him to find places where he might add thoughtshots.  Barry Lane breaks down thoughtshots into three categories: flash-forwards, flashbacks, and internal monologues.

I have found that lessons on flash-forwards and flashbacks go a long way.   Students become adept at finding places in their rough drafts where they can add a related memory from the past or ruminate about the future.

Be sure to show students examples from books that they are reading or texts in their language arts curriculum.  These models will reveal to them the “code words” that signal a flash-forward (I imagine, I think, If, etc.) or a flashback (I remember, Once, In the past, When I was young, etc.).

Some WITS teachers encourage students to use arrows in their writing to indicate where they are adding a flashforward or a flashback.

Here is an example by a student, inspired by the Judith Viorst book Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, who revised his story to include a flashback and a flashforward:

When I walked into class today, the teacher said, “Test!”  My eyes popped open wide.  This was not the kind of news I needed on a Monday.  Then, I accidently forgot to put away my backpack, and Molly tripped on it, and the teacher gave me the eye!  When I sat down, I missed my chair because SOMEONE had moved it.

Now, the teacher is blabbing on and on about how nice everyone looks today, which reminds me that the teacher told us last Friday to wear a shirt and tie on Monday for School Picture Day.  I’m wearing a Hawaiian shirt with orange flowers because Mom forgot to do the laundry!   I bet this photo will turn out worse than last year’s when my hair was green.  I can picture my parents pulling out today’s photo at my wedding. “Look who you’re marrying!” they’ll say, and everyone will laugh! I knew this was going to be a horrible, messed-up, rotten egg kind of day.

Revision is difficult to teach, but given a few (but not too many) techniques, students are able to make their stories better.

-Marcia Chamberlain, WITS Houston

Excite Young People about Poetry with a New Book, Open the Door

Posted June 14, 2013 & filed under Notebook, WITS People.

41wOxPaAwIL._SY300_“Worried you don’t know how to teach poetry? Frustrated that your students groan at the sight of a poem? Open the Door will change all that. The writers not only give teachers permission to approach the teaching of poetry through a fresh portal; they also provide clear directions for finding that elusive door in the wall.” –Carol Jago, past president, National Council of Teachers of English
WITS Executive Director Robin Reagler, as well as writers such as Dave Eggers and Yusef Komunyakaa, is among those experts who provide lesson plans and advice for teachers of young poets.  Open the Door is appropriate for first-time and veteran teachers, and it contains valuable and inspirational resources that you will want to keep on hand.  The collection of essays is available now through McSweeney’s. And it also currently available as a free eBook on the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute website, along with a range of other free educational resources.

“Buzz” of the Town: The Nicola Parente Art Opening

Posted April 10, 2013 & filed under Notebook, WITS People.

Artist Nicola Parente guides his student through an art lesson

WITS is proud to share that Artist Nicola Parente will have an opening reception for his “Colony Collapse” installation, bringing light to the disappearance of bees and colony collapse disorder.

Nicola has been a longtime volunteer and WITS teaching artist, including helping kids create art from recycled materials through the Environmental Writing Project.

The opening reception is free and will take place from 6-8 pm this Saturday, April 13, 2013 at David A Brown’s micro scope 1824 experimental art space at Spring Street Studios.

The site specific installation will be on exhibit through May 31. Please join WITS in support of Nicola’s newest work that is getting a huge “buzz” around town.  Artist Nicola Parente used more than 2,700 brown paper bags to create “Colony Collapse.” The installation, bathed in amber light, is designed to look like an empty beehive.

Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/entertainment/arts-theater/article/Colony-Collapse-creates-big-buzz-in-small-space-4412983.php#ixzz2Q4MlHVHb

Lessons from the Classroom: Writing that Transcends the Page

Posted April 13, 2011 & filed under Lesson Plan, Notebook, WITS People.

As I walked towards the front entrance of E.O. Smith Education Center to observe WITS Writer Deborah Wiggins, I sensed love in the air. On this Valentine’s Day, Wiggins’ writers were preparing to work when I slipped through the classroom door. An international performance poet with a commanding stature, Wiggins is a take charge teacher with a big smile and a warm heart. She wasted no time arresting the boy’s and girl’s attention, using a count-to-ten approach. By the time she reaches number 10, every bottom should be in its seat and all eyes should be on her. (She later told me her students usually are glued to their chairs by number 9.)

Deborah Wiggins inspires her 4th graders to create heart-shaped love poems. Photo by Jennifer Watson.

Getting the children to focus is one of the many challenges Wiggins learned since she took on the class last fall. WITS writers are tasked with developing innovative teaching methods that encourage children to think of language in unconventional ways in addition to showing them that writing about their everyday experiences can be fun. Although each WITS writer is given a sample curriculum as a guideline, customizing the lesson plan to each classroom is no easy feat, not even for a seasoned teacher like Wiggins.

“The biggest trick to working with the kids at Smith is [finding] engaging and active ways for them to interact with writing that transcends the page,” she said. “There are no interesting pieces without imagination. As long as their imaginations are alive, so are their emotions and stories.”

WITS student Guadalupe Hernandez and Mayor Parker. Photo by Gayatri Parikh.

 

 

In the spirit of the holiday, Wiggins shared a heart-themed prompt to inspire love poems. Everyone was given construction paper, scissors, and pencils to create a heart and decorate it and asked to write a poem beginning with a simile. The children read their work aloud, and the results were beyond charming. What impressed me most was the individual attention Wiggins gave to every student and her ability to draw on their emotions in a way that got them excited about describing their hearts’ desires.

Wiggins’ natural gift of connecting with her audience as a spoken word poet is a skill she transfers exceptionally well as a teacher. In a recent public performance she was invited to showcase both talents at the kickoff event for Public Poetry, a reading series established to celebrate poetry in the community. She brought along Guadalupe Hernandez, a 4th grader from E.O. Smith, to read poems in honor of National Poetry Month. Of the featured poets including Wiggins, Mayor Annise Parker, Rich Levy, Martha Serpas, and Eva Skrande, it was Hernandez who stunned the crowd with her two poems “Diamonds” and “Untitled” (below).
By Guadalupe Hernandez

My world feels
Cold and windy
The grass is wet
temperature around 65 degrees
it moves like a sphere
an airplane
the right way the wind is going
My world sounds like
Vibration of the wind
In my ear
Trees blowing
I could hear the freeway
When the wind blows
And the trees blow
And the leaves get in your face
And the bears migrate in the winter
And when it stops
It feels hot
I get mad
And our stuff flies away.

Her courageous performance was a testament of how writing “transcends the page” and manifests itself into an experience memorable enough to make a teacher/writer/poet’s heart incredibly proud.

by Jennifer Watson,
Writers in the Schools