By Tara Cavanaugh
“Today you are officially a published author!” proclaimed English teacher Sal Barrientes to a room full of seventh graders on June 3.
That day, the book “I Could Only Look Up: Anatomy of a Middle School” was unveiled by the staff at 826michigan, who accompanied students on every step of their publishing journey.
826michigan is a non-profit dedicated to supporting students with their writing skills and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. The organization is located downtown on East Liberty with the storefront “Robot Supply Store,” where it provides drop-in tutoring and workshops. Aside from sending volunteers to Mitchell Elementary and Roberto Clemente, it also sends volunteers to schools in Ypsilanti and Detroit.
826michigan staff and volunteers worked with Barrientes’ and Ellen Daniel’s students in the fall and winter for eight to ten hours a week. The book includes poems, essays, memoirs and fables. “This process really met lots of different goals, which is why we incorporated lots of different types of writing,” said Daniel.
The students learned that “this is work we’re going to work really hard on, refine and refine and refine, because you don’t just write something on a piece of paper and get it published,” said Daniel. “We were trying to develop that sense of: not that it’s just done but now it’s good. Revision is really important. Being able to look at your own work is really important. Being able to peer conference is really important.”
“It really got them invested in writing, got them excited about the writing, and throughout the editing process they worked really hard to make their pieces the best that they could be,” said 826michigan Volunteer Coordinator and Program Manager Frances Martin.
“You can tell a student again and again that they are a great writer, but they might not believe it. Seeing their name in the book can change their self-concept of being a writer.”
At the unveiling last Monday, students read excerpts of their pieces aloud and signed each other’s books. 826michigan provided each student with a copy of the 130-page book that was carefully edited and designed by 826michigan volunteers.
Barrientes reminded students that when they attend Portfolio Day as eighth graders, the books is an accomplishment they will be able to show off.
“It’s really rewarding to see how Sal and Ellen have worked with these kids and developed their sense of identities as a writer,” said Chuck Hatt, the district’s curriculum coordinator for literacy and social studies. “And what a gift it is to have 826michigan here to come and be with our kids and to help facilitate that process.”
“This will be a source of great pride for many who come after you,” Scarlett Principal Gerald Vazquez said to the students. “Congratulations!”