Changing the World, One Writer at a Time:
Community Outreach in Holyoke MA
Guest Blogger: Kathy Dunn
Creative writing is both an art and a tool for change. What makes this medium even more compelling is the connection between writing and literacy. And literacy skills impact learning in all arenas, across all ages and stages.
My work in Holyoke began with a small workshop for girls at the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club, using Amherst Writers & Artists methods. “My” girls want to know all about the world around them, and they have something to say about everything. I can’t think of a better set of qualities for a writer – or a better way to develop strong voices in preparation for middle school.
In the spring of 2014, I led a writing workshop for fourth graders in a neighborhood public school. Twice weekly, families delivered their sons and daughters to school early – to write, share, and respond to each other’s stories. We made a lot of noise, and gained a lot of confidence. At the end of the year when it came time to measure reading levels – one indicator of literacy – these students had progressed at three times the rate of their classmates.
This year, I lead five writing groups, both before and during the school day. I’m often at a loss to articulate how hard, and at the same time how rewarding, this work is. My students live with uncertainty about things I take for granted. Poverty impacts their lives in every way – and caring about students means carrying small heart breaks every day.
The city’s efforts have won national recognition, and even as the State begins a controversial receivership of the public schools, officials recognize, and express commitment to building upon, the city’s ongoing efforts.
Learning is at stake for some of our most vulnerable children, and there are no simple answers. So I write. I journal, ponder, and consider. Then I plan for the next day’s groups. Writing helps me balance the complexity of forces that impact my work with children on a daily basis. What I can say for certain is that my days are more challenging, my skills are deeper, and my world is far bigger and richer.