826michigan picks Ann Arbor as centerpiece project for 2nd year

Creative writing students from Huron were the focus last year, Clemente student writing to be published next spring

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

Ann Arbor students will be in the publishing limelight again this year as the centerpiece project of a 5-year-old nonprofit that aims squarely at literacy and writing for area youth.

826michigan has chosen the Roberto Clemente Center as its major project for this school year; volunteers come into the classroom to work with students, help them write and eventually publish a book of the finished work. Last year, the nonprofit writing center published a book of essays from Huron High School students.

Roberto Clemente teacher Terry Carpenter, left, works with 826michigan volunteers and his U.S. History students who are part of a writing collaborative with the Ann Arbor nonprofit.

Smaller 826michigan writing projects are also under way this year at Scarlett Middle School, Pattengill and Mitchell elementary schools and Community High School. On-site workshops and after-school tutoring at 826michigan’s downtown site involve many other local students, said Amanda Uhle, executive director for the nonprofit.

“The feeling is one of fun and encouragement,” she explained. “It helps students feel good about being here.”

The Ann Arbor nonprofit, which has just 3 paid staff members and several interns and AmeriCorps-paid assistants, works with an army of 1,400 volunteers that makes the program go, Uhle said.

Katie Jones, a former volunteer and current AmeriCorps assistant with 826michigan, works with Roberto Clemente students as they begin their fictional accounts of the Civil War. The student writings will be published in a book next spring.

They work with other kid-friendly local agencies including Ozone House, Avalon House and the Community Action Network and also take part in The Ann Arbor Public School’s Summer Learning Institute, an elementary summer program that teams Ann Arbor teachers with University of Michigan education students for remedial learning.

This fall, students in Terry Carpenter’s U.S. History class at Roberto Clemente are blending learning with creative writing. Students are stretching their imaginations, asking “what if” questions and allowing them to rewrite fictionalized versions of history around the Civil War.

On this day, students started with silent reading time, then moved into collaborative groups to talk about their fictional Civil War accounts and begin their writing.  “What if people from America became slaves in Africa? What if the Native Americans had enslaved us? What if the south had won?” Carpenter asked, prodding students to think.

“It’s your story and you make it what you want,” he added. “You can write anything you want, as long as it’s about the Civil War.”

Carpenter said he sees the project as a unique way to engage students. “I want them to be curious about history,” he said. “And this was a way to do it in a social justice and civil rights framework.”

Carpenter first worked with 826michigan when he was a teacher in the Willow Run district and also last year at Roberto Clemente for a Harlem Monologue Project, in which his students wrote and performed one-minute monologues for the entire school.

“I’ve been working with them for years,” said Carpenter who is in his second year teaching at Clemente. “They have a great program.”

826michigan volunteers Renuka Uthappa and Curt Mark as well as Katie Jones, a paid AmeriCorps assistant for 826michigan, visit Roberto Clemente weekly to assist in the project.

This is Uthappa’s second year volunteering and she also helped with Clemente’s Harlem Monologue Project. “To see the difference between how they prepared to how they eventually put it out on the stage was huge,” she said. Uthappa said she is excited to work at the school again this year.

The 826 movement was started in San Francisco by writer Dave Eggers who named it after the nonprofit’s address. Locally, writer and author Steven Gillis founded the Ann Arbor chapter. Mark first got involved with 826michigan in the San Francisco area and volunteered locally when the Ann Arbor storefront opened.

“I was happy to see them come to town,” he said, adding that he was impressed with the whole concept. “It seemed like such an extraordinary thing for a writer to do – to give back to the community.”

Jones first got involved with 826 Michigan because she was an English major.  “I wanted an outlet to talk about writing,” she said.  She said she has learned as much as she has given. “I was surprised at just how much I could learn … and how differently kids learn,” she added. Jones hopes to someday teach creative writing at the college level.

She was involved with last year’s project at Huron with teacher Quinn Strassel and his Short Readings class, where 90 student essays were published in the “Talking Back, Giving Thanks – and Why It Never Pays to Drink the Haterade” project through 826michigan.

In addition to the local publication, eight of the Huron students were published in a nationally distributed book of the same theme called “Talking Back.” All wrote about their experiences in education. Strassel called 826michigan “an invaluable resource for me this past year.”

826michigan has been in place for five years, operating behind the Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair shop, which it also runs. Having a unique storefront operation is a model used at 826 chapters use nationwide – it is inviting to the public and helps fund the writing programs, Uhle said.

Casey Hans writes and edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090.


About 826michigan

After-school tutoring is one of the programs offered at 826michigan. (Courtesy, 826michigan)

Started in 2005, 826michigan is a downtown Ann Arbor nonprofit that supports students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills and helps teachers inspire students to write. Their philosophy is that one-on-one attention and strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. Free programs including drop-in tutoring, after-school workshops, in-school programs, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications are all part of their mission. They do a lot of work in The Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Getting involved – About 1,400 area residents have signed up to be volunteers, including a number of college students and adults from every walk of life; about 400 of those are active in 826michigan programs. Persons interested in volunteering should fill out 826michigan’s online application to be invited to the November orientation by visiting www.826michigan.org/volunteer

Open House – The nonprofit is also hosting a community open house from 7:30-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11. Come into the Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair shop at 115 E. Liberty St. between Fourth and Main streets in downtown Ann Arbor.

Details: Visit  www.826michigan.org/

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