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Drop-in Teen and Youth Writing Workshops

At 826michigan’s Drop-in Teen and Youth Writing Workshops at Ypsilanti Public Libraries, children are allowed to explore writing on their own terms with the gentle guidance and heartfelt support of regular volunteers who share their passion for the written word with students. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
826michigan Executive Director Amanda Uhle: What distinguishes 826michigan’s programs, including Drop-in Writing, is the depth and significance of the volunteer engagement we see. Although programs like Drop-in Writing require staff time to oversee and manage, in the week-to-week they are planned and implemented by volunteers, who create prompts, lead the group, and work one-on-one with students. In the past year we’ve been incredibly fortunate to find volunteers who stay with the program for months at a time, taking on a leadership role and developing real relationships with the students, who also attend week after week. This allows instruction to be customized to the needs of the students in a very real way, because we actually know them.
Drop-in Writing is also distinguished by its focus on making writing fun and on seeing the act of writing as a form of creative play -- a way to take a break from the mental demands of school and life...

Drop-in Writing is also distinguished by its focus on making writing fun and on seeing the act of writing as a form of creative play -- a way to take a break from the mental demands of school and life, while simultaneously developing skills that are necessary to success in those areas.

What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
Absolutely one of the most exciting things for Drop-in Writing, or for any of our programs, was the Five Bowls of Oatmeal event we held this past fall. Students at each of the Drop-in Writing sites worked together over the course of weeks with 826michigan volunteers and some friends of ours who are experienced playwrights and actors. The result was two one-act plays, “Zombie on the Couch” and “The Adventures, Triumphs, and Misadventures of the Land of Ishaan”.
These were performed by professional actors from the Penny Seats Theater Company in the Rackham Auditorium, an absolutely beautiful space here in Ann Arbor. At 826michigan we’re really committed to the model of project-based learning, under the theory that working toward a concrete result cements gains in self-confidence and ability. This was a truly amazing example of project-based learning for the students in Drop-in Writing -- seeing their words performed, on a real stage, with real actors. For us it reinforced the value of long-term projects, even with casual programs like Drop-in Writing, and excited us about the possibilities of partnerships with actors and other local artists.

What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
One of our ongoing challenges as an organization is how best to get the students who need us. We are unusual among 826 chapters, which are all located in more urban areas (Boston, Chicago, D.C., Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and
At 826michigan we’re really committed to the model of project-based learning, under the theory that working toward a concrete result cements gains in self-confidence and ability.
Seattle). Access to public transportation and the general socioeconomic environment are much different here in southeast Michigan. We are committed to accessibility, and we know that many of the students who need us most can’t always come to us -- so we’re always trying to bring our volunteers (many of whom are Ann Arbor-based and don’t have access to their own transportation) to as many students as possible.

Fortunately, we did just receive a donated used car thanks to a great friend of the organization! In the coming year we’re looking forward to an increased ability to explore the region and re-shape our programs to use this wonderful new resource.

What really differentiates this program?
Drop-in Writing develops small, largely self-sufficient communities of young writers based in neighborhood locations at the Ypsilanti District Libraries. But much like 826michigan benefits from its network of seven sister chapters all over the country, Drop-in Writing benefits from its connection to the mothership here in Ann Arbor. Because these writing times are connected to an established nonprofit organization, they offer structure and stability to both the students and to the volunteers involved.
826michigan also publishes a yearly compendium of the best of the best writing from all its programs, the OMNIBUS. Work from both Drop-in Writing sites will be featured in the upcoming edition, due out in October. Publication is an incredible way of validating and honoring student work, and students tell us nothing makes them feel special quite the way seeing their own name in print does.

What are the keys to success for your program?
One of the major keys to the success of Drop-in Writing is probably its, well, drop-in nature! Although we do find we have “regulars” who return week after week, the casual, no-registration-required structure of Drop-in Writing allows us to regularly welcome new students, particularly those who are reluctant writers. It’s a lot easier to coax a student from the computers at the library to the writing table if you can say something like, “Well, just try it for today and see if you like it.” It’s low-commitment, low-pressure, flexible, and fun -- the perfect environment to explore and try new things.

How does your program organize the volume of volunteers needed to make the Drop-in Writing Workshops happen?  
We are fortunate enough to have volunteer involvement at every level of commitment, from people we might see once or twice a year to interns who essentially take up residence in our offices. We communicate with our volunteers via a twice-monthly e-mail that lays out the volunteer opportunities available; as previously mentioned, though, many volunteers choose to commit on a regular basis to one particular program.
We can count on Dave and Becky to show up every Wednesday at the Whitaker Rd library, to communicate with us should issues arise, and to actively take a leadership role and steward the program. This minimizes the amount of administrative work on our end and helps to create a meaningful opportunity for volunteers, most of whom are local professionals or students looking to stay involved with the community. It seems that volunteers appreciate the mix of independence and support we try to provide at 826michigan. 
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  • 826michigan
    826michigan is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Our services are structured around our belief that ...


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