My return back from January's residency resulted in a head-long plunge into my enrichment project.
Initially, I had planned to create a literary journal for black and latino high schoolers in the Hartford county area. I had decided on a name, created flyers, submission guidelines, the whole nine. I created a list of all high schools, after-school programs and practically anything connected to minority high school students. And then I sent my material. I can't recall off the top of my head how many I sent an introduction letter to, but it was a lot. Sadly, I only received one submission!
Where one door closes, another opens. An article in the Hartford Un-Courant caught my eye. Two Rivers Magnet Middle School in East Hartford was looking for mentors in all areas, including authors so I sent the school my curriculum vita. The enrichment coordinator for Two Rivers immediately contacted me and expressed her enthusiasm for my participation but she wanted me to host a writer's group. I was hesistant. I knew my work hours and I had concerns about transportation for the students so she settled on me mentoring one student.
Mentoring the one student proved difficult. She didn't have daily access to the internet for on-line chats and e-mails. I had pitched it to Brian to allow me to substitute my mentoring in place of my initial proposal for my enrichment project but you know Brian. He always wants more. He suggested I host a writer's group! So I went back to the middle school, told them my initial idea and they flipped for it! We worked on a schedule that fit around my work hours and the school vowed to offer any resources necessary for the project.
The language arts teacher identified students with talent, from 6 - 8 grade and on my first meeting on January 11 I was surrounded by eight black and hispanic boisterous and sharp females. There's Jacinta, my shy 6th grader; Zoe, an 8th grader wise beyond her years; Maya, my 8th grade space cadet who doesn't take crap off of nobody; Sierra, another shy lady in 7th grade; Daniella, a chatterbox of a 7th grader; Jessina, a quiet storm of an 8th grader; Oksana, a know-it-all 7th grader with an attitude I constantly have to keep in check; and my favorite, Ariel, a 7th grader who's sharp as a tack who I have in mind to be my second-in-command.
The one thing that was glaringly apparently was there were no males! So I tasked the ladies to take the word to the street and find me some boys with an interest in writing and used Tupac (the rapper) as an example of urban poetry. Jacinta was the only one who came through for me but not as I had hoped! On the second meeting, Ryan showed up, a 6th grader of the caucasian persuasion, a mathematician with aspirations of being a writer! The enrichment coordinator freaked out, nervous about what the parents and the administration would say about Ryan being part of the group but I let my feelings be known that Ryan is welcomed to stay as long as he wants to, and to exclude him based on his color would set a bad example. She relented.
At the second meeting, the group brainstormed on what to call the magazine. Someone shouted out, "graffitti" based on the concept design for the front cover, a contribution from Ryan. Someone else shouted out, "how about Graffiteen? Now that's tight!" And so this is how Graffiteen was born. The magazine is slated for publication in mid-May and will contain prose, poetry, art, movie and book reviews and an astrology and Chinese zodiac page ( I believe this is the year of the Boar says the ladies and one gentleman in the group). The students will sell the magazines and whatever money they make will be turned over to the school to be used as production seed money for the next issue.
We are planning a field trip to see the movie "Freedom Writers" with Hilary Swank on Saturday. Our next meeting will be the election of officers (Associate Editor, Managing Editor, etc.) and the discussion of each student's writing projects ( assignments were given out at the last meeting). I've brought my 13 year old son to the last couple of meetings and he was impressed over how serious these students are about their writing. They are truly talented and were correctly identified and I have a feeling I've started something that will be great for them and their school.
I'll keep you posted on future developments!