A Travel Guide to My Heart

Posted November 20, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Poem.


Welcome to hot, humid Houston. If you travel northeast, you might find a place I love most: my home. You can take a right and find a wonderful white house. It’s so special with my mom, dad, my 5-year old brother, Sam, my 8-day old baby brother, Shepard and my two dogs, Gus and Zeus. Also, two beautiful fish used to live there, but they died.

Come with me and travel west. You’ll find my most beloved grandmother and grandfather. You’ll find them in a red brick house. Please travel east. A candy shop awaits! I could eat all the candy. If I could, I would spend tons and tons of hours eating chocolate. Come up North, flying high in the sky. See clouds as you pass by. Then you’ll see a paradise where you can relax. I will play in the pool all day long. It is a place I call Florida.

by Nellie, 1st grade

How The Leech Family Invigorates the Arts in Houston

Posted November 2, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

The ninth annual WITS gala, Many Voices | One Houston, is coming up soon—November 9 at the Astorian. (Tickets and tables are still available.) As we anticipate this celebration of Houston’s resilient voices, we’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the accomplishments of this year’s gala honorees, The Leech Family.


The Leech Family has been dedicated to making art, music, and writing available to everyone. Perryn Leech serves as Managing Director for the Houston Grand Opera. Together with WITS, the HGO continually showcases Houston voices in a variety of forms including poetry, opera, and spoken word. After Harvey hit and floodwaters rose, the HGO was forced to temporarily close its doors. But, as Perryn Leech said in an interview with The New York Times after the storm, “Houstonians are robust. We’ll come up with something that gives them an opera season.” Before long, the HGO managed to continue its season at the George R. Brown Convention Center, dubbing the repurposed space “The Resilience Theater.” The show must go on.


The inspiring works of The Leech Family don’t stop there. Caroline Leech is an author whose YA debut, Wait For Me, was published by Harper Teen earlier this year. Her second novel, In Another Time, will be out next spring. (Read an interview with her here). The Leech children are also artistic forces: Jemma, Kirsty, and Rory are high school students at Lamar HS and HSPVA, and have been WITS students for more than a decade. The oldest, Jemma, is an award-winning poet and essayist who has garnered national attention. “Poetry fills my soul with delightful hues of life’s momentary escapes into bliss, and torment,” Jemma said. “Language is my paint and my keyboard is my brush.” She is living proof of the healing power of poetry and storytelling.


Gala attendees will be treated to a moving performance of “The Jemma Songs” by the Greenbriar Consortium quartet, featuring Julia Fox, soprano (Houston Grand Opera); Anne Leek, oboe (Houston Symphony); Daniel Strba, viola (Houston Symphony); and Paul Boyd, piano (Foundation for Modern Music). The performance will include poems written by the honoree, Jemma Leech, beautifully set to music by Houston composer, Mary Carol Warwick.


Together, the Leech family passionately promotes the artistic power of the written word. Their efforts to preserve the arts in Houston are inspiring to us all. Please join us in honoring them at the Many Voices | One Houston gala November 9, an evening where we’ll come together as a city and a writing community to celebrate the resilient spirit of Houston.

Inprint’s Cool Brains! Presents Newbury-Winner Katherine Paterson

Posted October 31, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Great news for readers both young and young at heart: As part of its Cool Brains! Reading series, Inprint presents an afternoon with Katherine Paterson, two-time winner of the Newbury Medal and the National Book Award. Paterson will give a presentation about her new middle grade novel, My Brigadista Year at Meyerland Performing & Visual Arts Middle School on Sunday, November 12 at 3pm. A Q&A will follow the talk, as well as a book sale and signing.


A beloved and bestselling middle grade author, Paterson is best known for Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins. Both novels have been adapted into movies within the last decade and remain celebrated parts of many school-reading programs. Paterson’s new novel, My Brigadista Year, tracks the efforts of the brigadistas, a group of mostly young women who sought to eradicate illiteracy in Cuba. Any WITS supporter will recognize the brigadista campaign as a worthy cause.


About the novel, Publishers Weekly says, “Through Lora’s naïve but openhearted perspective, Paterson weaves in details about Cuban history and the events that led to the overthrow of the Batista regime and the rise of Communism… Paterson’s story is without political agenda, focusing instead on an improbable (and successful) literacy campaign and how it dramatically expands the world of one sheltered but determined girl.”


WITS extends an invite to fans and families to come meet a living literary legend! This even is free an open to the public. Doors open at 2:15pm. For more information, visit Inprint.


*Please note that the book signing will be conducted on a first-come, first-served basis. Upon entering the theater, people wishing to have books signed will be given a number, and the book signing will take place in numerical order after the on-stage presentation.

Call for Submissions: The 2018 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Posted October 25, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Here’s a great opportunity for young writers and artists to get recognition for their hard work. The 2018 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are open for submissions from all students in grades 7–12. All middle and high school students are invited to submit original writing and works of art and writing in 29 categories of visual and literary art, including essays, drama, fiction, humor, journalism, poetry, and more. All submissions are blindly judged based on: originality, technical skill, and the emergence of a persona, vision, or voice.

Teen poets whose work receives a Gold Medal have the opportunity to receive scholarships and awards, to be published, and to be selected as National Student Poets, the nation’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work, selected by the U.S. Poet Laureate and other amazing jurors. Graduating seniors may submit Portfolios.

Scholastic Awards recipients earn opportunities for recognition, exhibition, publication, and scholarships. In 2017, the Scholastic Awards distributed more than $250,000 in direct scholarships and more than $5 million in scholarships was offered to Scholastic Awards participants by colleges and universities across the country. Visit artandwriting.org/how-to-enter to learn more about the submission process.

Submission deadlines vary by region. The Harris County submission deadline is Monday, December 4, 2017. Visit artandwriting.org to create your profile.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens. The early promise of some of our nation’s most accomplished and prolific creative leaders has been identified through the Awards, such as Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Charles White, Philip Pearlstein, Sylvia Plath, Kay WalkingStick, Luis Jiménez, Ken Burns, Stephen King, Lena Dunham, Richard Linklater, and Zac Posen. Will you be next? Submit your work and find out!

Questions? Contact [email protected].

Nadiyah’s Island of Cats

Posted October 20, 2017 & filed under Fiction, Notebook, Student Writing.

If I had my very own island, it would be near Hawaii. What makes my island special is the fact that it has all the cats in the world. My mom, sister, grandparents, aunt and baby cousin live there. (No boys allowed, except for my grandfather.)

My island has crystal blue water and white beaches. Coconut trees, pineapple trees, palm trees, and banana trees cover the island. Cat toys and cats cover the island. The island is 1,000 miles long and 1,000 miles wide (so we and the cats have enough space.) We each have our own two-story house. There is a 100 miles long and 100 miles wide island connecting to our island. It has plants growing. All the types of fruits and vegetables in the world grow on them. A large cellar under the ground stores all the food. There is also a pool if we get hot.

Gardeners collect ripe fruits and vegetables every day. Then, chefs cook a meal with the bountiful harvest. They set the table in the dining hall and serve us our meal. We also have a garden filled with all the flowers in the world and a smaller garden filled with herbs and spices. We have a tiny spa just in case we strain our backs or our nails get damaged, especially for our gardeners. There are vets if the cats get sick. We have our very own hospital if we get hurt, too. My island is awesome.

by Nadiyah, 4th grade

(photo from pixabay.com)

Minute Maid Park

Posted October 13, 2017 & filed under Event, Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.


Minute Maid


Five forty five  A.M.

Screaming, booming

Jose Altuve, Orbit, Carlos Correa

Play games, eat ice-cream

Two months!


by Anthony,  2nd grade


Posted September 22, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Poem, Student Writing, WITS People.

Summer melting

into Fall

a perfect morning

letting the wind

wash over you

on the porch.

Lime Ice

reminds you

that the sweaty

days are over.

You enter

the realm

of cool breezes.

Gleeful children

run through

the streets


returning home

to dinner,

garden fresh.


by Lila, 5th grade

The Shelter of Imagination

Posted September 11, 2017 & filed under Notebook, WITS People.

Meggie with Armoney, age 6,
at George R. Brown Convention Center

Days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, WITS Program Manager, Meggie Monahan, volunteered at George R. Brown Convention Center, reading, writing, and playing with children who had been displaced by the storm and floodwaters. Meggie reflects on the power of imagination, the generosity of listening, and the resilience of children. Read an excerpt from “The Shelter of Imagination,” which originally aired on KPFT 90.1 FM’s “So, What’s Your Story?”.

When I was a child, our sticky Pennsylvania summers were filled with “make-believe” games. My siblings and I strung stage curtains out of old Sesame Street bed sheets. We wrote new & improved scripts for our favorite Disney movies, and we choreographed music videos for Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” album. Then one summer, our parents got a new refrigerator. And in the weeks to follow, that huge empty box in the garage became pure and total magic. It was our special hideout: a dark and cool refuge from parents and chores, an escape from mosquitoes, and a ticket to a bigger world.

I haven’t thought about that refrigerator box in a long time. But last week at the George R Brown Convention Center, I recognized it from across the room as Davion and Abu led me by the hand to their special fort. We snaked our way through a sea of cots and blankets and belongings, and there was this beautiful empty box— a space that could be anything at all, anything they wanted it to be. There, smack-dab in the middle of noise and need and exhaustion and loss, these boys had chosen to stand on the shoreline of their imaginations and create a new, more hopeful world.

I came to Houston to study creative writing, and I stayed in Houston because of Writers in the Schools, an organization that believes in the life-saving power of the imagination. We believe that every child has a voice, that every voice is valuable and deserves to be heard— and that the act of sharing our stories is what makes us human, and what connects us to each other. When talking about WITS, I like to say that “wherever kids are, that’s where we want to be,” and that includes inside a cardboard box in the middle of the 4th largest city in the nation.

In the aftermath of Harvey, I’ve had the opportunity to sit with some of our city’s children at the GRB and the NRG and listen to their voices. And it has reminded me and affirmed in me two things: one, that kids are kids wherever they go. And two, that playfulness, imagination, and creativity are trustworthy tools for healing. Even after being displaced by a hurricane, kids want to sit in your lap and wear your sunglasses. They want to pretend to be tigers and practice their super hero moves with you, cover you in stickers, and braid your hair. Most of all, when they believe you are truly listening, kids want to talk. They are natural storytellers, and they want to tell you about their pets and their best friends and their dream vacations, and what they want to be when they grow up. And at WITS, our most important job is to listen— to really listen— and to celebrate and encourage and elevate children’s words at every level.

And that’s what I love about WITS: that we as a community of writers are committed to excavating and elevating the stories of our young people, and emboldening them to use their words to create a more just and beautiful world. And one day these kiddos— the Davions and Abus and Tianas and Bobbies and Anthonys and Nathans and Christiannas and Zias— all of these children are going to tell stories to their children about what happened when it rained for days and days they needed to leave their homes and live in a new and unfamiliar place. And it’s my hope that peppered within their stories and their families’ stories, there might be some small, treasured moments of play, lightness, and getting to be a kid, even in the midst of tragedy.

There is an Irish saying that “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live,” and I would expand upon that by saying, “It is in the stories of each other that the people live.” When we take the time to sit and listen to the story of another person, especially a child, they may not know where to start— but the act of listening is powerful and invites generosity and willingness in the speaker. And when children know they are being listened to, they can’t help but fill empty spaces— air and pages and cardboard boxes— with all kinds of magic. Their giggles bounce across poured concrete floors. Their litanies of favorite foods transform phrases like “shrimp with garlic butter” into prayerful syllables in a crowded convention hall. And their Red Ninja lava super powers are, somehow, enough to defeat the Blue Ninja’s endless waves of water.

WITS Student Writes Poem of Hope to the City of Houston

Posted August 30, 2017 & filed under News, Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.

This morning, we received a touching gift – a poem written by one of our Writers in the Schools (WITS) students, Eshaan.

Eshaan, a 6th grader, crafted this poem during the course of his family’s journey through Harvey, and offers it up to the city of Houston as a way of bringing everyone together with words of hope.

Starting this week, WITS is volunteering at shelters to help more of our young neighbors tell their stories, because storytelling is healing, and we are #houstonstrong.

Hurricane Harvey: A Terrifying Tempest

Daily gales gossip of terror,
And tornadoes clone as if in infinite mirrors,
God watches over us though,
And as the winds blow,
He oversees,
Cities turning into seas.

I feel helpless,
As I pray for victims’ wellness.
Distraught and crying,
Kin of victims sighing,
Why is Mother Nature so cruel?

One minute there is sunrise,
The next moment you hear cries,
Young babies,
Old ladies,
All trapped in this haplessness.

A second Noah’s Ark,
God tells us to hark!
Batten down the hatches,
And as He snaps trees like matches,
Remember we are all one.

As bombs explode,
And tears flow,
Those on cloud seven,
Come down from heaven.
As barrages fire,
All unite in this horrid quagmire.

As we come together,
We will remake Houston for the better.
Resurrection is impossible,
But together we make it possible.
Harvey left distraught in his wake,
Many a person who stay awake.
If we unite as one,
We can get rebuilding done.

Neighbors help neighbors,
And the common man labors.
The hand hardened from oaring,
Helpful souls soaring.
911 is overworked,
As residents do their tornado homework.

We must pray,
And not stray,
Stay calm and strong,
For I believe God will see us through this storm.

By Eshaan


Posted August 5, 2017 & filed under mentor text, Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.

Death is not

a tall figure dressed

in black.

It doesn’t have an intimidating

black cloak

or a skull for a face,

and it doesn’t bear a scythe to kill you.

We shouldn’t have to see Death as

this monster,

this scary,




Maybe if we saw


in a different light, not as a scary

entity, but as a small

but strong,


with dark–but not black–fur

and large, white, caring eyes,

we wouldn’t be so afraid

when Death crawls into our laps

to take us away.


by Cheyenne, 7th grade

The Warrior

Posted July 27, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.


The fire beside her was freshly

Lit and crackling. He stood there,

Above her sleeping body,

Quiet and waiting,

Waiting for her to awake from her

Peaceful sleep. The last

Dose of sunlight shone

On her face. Before, he too,

Went to sleep for the night,

He stood there thinking,

Thinking of what chaos would come

After this silent morning.

“Why am I doing this?”

Unable to find the answer,

He stood there watching,

Watching her and waiting.


by Mary, 10th grade

Revision Strategy #3: Rubber Banding

Posted July 18, 2017 & filed under Lesson Plan, Notebook, Student Writing, WITS People.


With younger children, this concrete activity called “Rubber Band Stretching” works well.  Demonstrate how a rubber band starts out small and can be stretched much larger.  Read a simple sentence out loud, and ask for suggestions about how to expand it.  After a student successfully stretches a sentence by adding new words, hand her a rubber band ball.  When a second student stretches the sentence further, the first student passes the ball to the second.  The game continues until it is impossible to stretch the sentence anymore!  Students then apply the lesson to a piece of their own writing.

With older students, the rubber band can be used to discuss sentence length in more complexity. Bring in a strong piece of writing that includes short, medium, and long sentences.  Discuss the various effects.  If you have a geo board, you can actually record or map out the sentences using rubber bands.  Show how the rhythm of a piece changes depending on sentence lengths.

As a spinoff activity, ask students to map out sentence lengths in advance.  Then, try to write a paragraph that fits, and notice how the paragraph sounds.  For older students, it is empowering to see how they can control the rhythm of their piece just through sentence length.

-Marcia Chamberlain, WITS Houston

My Name

Posted June 23, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.

My name is all the numbers because

I don’t have a favorite.


My name is silver because

it is shiny and is in Slytherin.


My name loves vegetarian cooking

that makes me hungry.


My name is the peaceful sound of the sea

and the sound of a stormy sea.


My name feels happy when I save

my money to take a trip.


My name means HUMANITY!


by Vishwa, age 6

#RethinkHighSchool: An Open Forum

Posted May 26, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Empowering youth voices is at the core of our mission at WITS. That’s why we partnered with XQ America and Brave New Voices to bring the Rethink High School campaign to Houston, creating an open forum event where youth from across the city can voice their ideas of what high school can and should be, brainstorming with each other and sharing their viewpoints with local public officials and youth advocates—people with the power to make a difference.

The event kicked off with music from 97.9 The Box and a bold, challenging video from XQ America explaining the purpose of the Rethink High School campaign: to create a high school environment that makes students feel valued, challenged, instrumental in their own learning, and equipped to solve the problems facing their communities.

Houston Poet Laureate Deborah “D.E.E.P” Mouton and 97.9 The Box radio hosts KG Smooth and Keisha Nicole shared stories of their own high school experiences and served as moderators for the breakout sessions that followed. In the breakouts, students shared their answers to questions conceived of by members of WITS’ Youth Advisory Council. Students filled the posters with their ideas and voiced powerful insights on how social justice, mental health awareness, diversity & inclusion, and other pressing issues facing today’s youth could be better addressed by high schools.

The thought-provoking discussions were followed by poems performed by members of the Meta-Four Houston slam team and Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate, Fareena Arefeen. The poems delivered incisive critiques of our current education system. Between the lyrical messages of the young poets and the impassioned opinions shared by student attendees, the room pulsed with an eagerness to make the ideas expressed in the discussion sessions a reality.

The event’s key speakers and panelists included a wide array of stakeholders–Houston City Council member Karla Cisneros; Lisa Felske of the Harris County Department of Education; Douglas Torres-Edwards of the HISD Arts Access Initiative; OCA Co-Facilitator and president of the Education Rainbow Challenge, Cecil Fong; Mark Cueva of the City of Houston Department of Neighborhoods; and the Assistant Director of University of Houston’s Creative Writing program, Giuseppe Taurino. Asked to share their hopes for educational reform and innovation, ideas flowed easily, from Councilmember Cisneros’ call for job opportunities for students still in high school to Douglas Torres-Edwards’ proposition that the students without great grades or perfect attendance should be placed at the center, not pushed to the margins and left to slip through the cracks.

The panelists then fielded questions from students about how they could put their ideas into action, leading to more empowering answers. Mark Cueva and Giuseppe Taurino encouraged the students in attendance to be the ones to speak up and inspire others in the process. Cecil Fong issued a challenge to push beyond the built-in diversity of Houston and make an active effort to befriend people outside of their own social groupings. Lisa Felske reminded the students that although they weren’t yet old enough to vote, they could still make their voices heard by attending city council and school board meetings.

As the program drew to a close, event emcee and WITS/Youth Speaks Future Corps Fellow Monica Davidson issued a call to action to the students. “These conversations we’ve had have been incredible. They’ve been inspiring. But they can’t stay inside the walls of this community center! You have to take them with you, share them with your friends, bring them into the outside world.”

The Young Writers Reading at The Menil Collection

Posted May 19, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Each year, The Menil Collection opens its doors to dozens of WITS classrooms, giving students the opportunity to see an extraordinary collection of visual art that heightens the senses and stretches the imagination.

As students take a tour of the museum’s collections, they write poems and stories inspired by the art they see, making connections between sight and sound, image and story. Last night at the Young Writers Reading we had the privilege of hearing and picturing what they created.

Menil Assistant Director of Public Programs, Theodore Bale, thanked everyone for attending the special evening and reminded all that the museum is free and open for the public to enjoy.

WITS Executive Director, Robin Reagler, shared a story about her childhood, when she would stare at the pictures in her books and imagine the colors and animals coming to life. That creative moment is the basis for the Menil project, where students examine art until it tells its secrets to them. They write those secrets down in their original poems and stories.

Robin also shared that when she first started at WITS, Ms. Dominque de Menil made a point to attend the Young Writers Reading every year in her wheelchair, because the powerful poems and stories the children were writing helped inform her sense of what the art was really about, and in that sense, what was happening in the world. Robin then thanked the students for “schooling us” on “what is happening in our world” with their visions of the paintings.

The emcee for the night, Houston Poet Laureate, Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, shared her love of creative writing and teaching with the crowd, and introduced each student. It was a truly amazing night. We look forward to next year!

WITS writers Erika Jo Brown and Andrew Karnavas with student Kloe, who read a poem about her experience with radiation.

From left to right: WITS writer Abigail Drozek-Fitzwater, Houston Poet Laureate, Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, WITS writer Gloria Alvarez, and WITS Executive Director, Robin Reagler.

Thank you to our major funders: The Menil Collection, The Houston Endowment, Youth Speaks, The Brown Foundation, The Simmons Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, The City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Copy.com, the Texas Commission on the Arts, The Farish Fund, The Clayton Fund, The Powell Foundation, and The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

The Birth of Color

Posted April 28, 2017 & filed under mentor text, Notebook, Poem, Poem of the Day, Student Writing.


The beautiful sunset
making shades
of blue,
and orange,
eyes of the wandering beings
from their windows,
the golden yellow tree,
the sunset lake,
children playing,
bluebirds chirping,
the blue leaves,
dark green haunting shadows,
a red horse,
people hard at work,
a bright sunny day,
trees reaching up to grow,
mothers making supper for their children,
and a door opening,
telling people to come.
This is the birth of color.

by Kirby, 3rd grade

Click the media player above to listen to the poem read on Sunny 99.1KPFT 90.1, and KTRU 96.1 Addison, WITS Youth Advisory Council Student. The background music is “Sweet” by Bensound.com. Produced by Susan Phillips.

Poem a Day is made possible in part by H-E-B, Copy.com, The City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, KPFT 90.1, Sunny 99.1, and KTR


Original post: October 11, 2016

Library Music

Posted April 27, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Poem, Poem of the Day, Student Writing.


This library music,

With the always-noise of

Strangers coughing

People falling in love

Smooching around the corner

Librarian shushing my crying cousin


Vocabulary of

Cough       Who         Kiss         Shhhhh…..

Language combinations,

Beauty to my ears

With the always-music of

Pages turning over and over,

Books falling from the shelves,

People’s laughter


The always-noise of library music.


by Alyiah, 4th grade

Click the media player above to listen to the poem read on Sunny 99.1KPFT 90.1, and KTRU 96.1 Tory, WITS Youth Advisory Council Student. The background music is “Molten Snow” by Jesse Spillane, Freemusicarchive.org. Produced by Susan Phillips.

Poem a Day is made possible in part by H-E-B, Copy.com, The City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, KPFT 90.1, Sunny 99.1, and KTRU 96.