I headed to a public school on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn yesterday to lead the fourth session of a 12-week memoir project. The school hired me to provide creative writing enrichment for their freshmen. After a tough first week, I began to feel like I was making a bit of headway here and there the second and third weeks.
Update: Group Two
This time, I hadn't seen the kids in two weeks (winter break and Regents prep) and was anxious to get the memoir project back on track. I had been especially worried about Group Two before break since they seemed to be falling way behind the other. So just before Christmas, I asked the classroom teacher to make photo copies of the students work so I could read them over vacation. And I was shocked: many weren't behind at all. In fact their memoirs (on an injury from broken furniture, a violent mother, an HIV-infected grandmother, a manipulative neighborhood drug dealer, a nurturing aunt, the value of close friendship, etc.) were incredibly powerful--filled with contextualizing details, dialogue, and in some cases, insightful reflection.
I arrived at school excited to discuss each piece with them--and was greeted by a lovely, "Welcome back," from the teacher. "The kids were upset that you weren't here last week," she said. I was so moved... and surprised... to hear that.
But as class began I started to figure out why they had warmed up to writing memoir.
I went over to work privately with each kid for a few minutes, and one by one they revealed even more personal information to me that we immediately incorporated into their pieces. I realized in those intimate moments that they loved a few things in particular about memoir: that they were being asked questions about moments in their lives that they deem important; that they were to put their thoughts and feelings to paper without criticism, judgment... or grading; that their paragraphs were being read and understood regularly; and that their reader was visually moved by it every time.
The kids were focused and productive yesterday. And best of all, relaxed and smiley.
I think these new, young writers are beginning to realize the power of writing. And liking it. While I am experiencing the pleasure and power of teaching on Flatbush Ave--and liking it.
Next week is the last week that I will be working with these particular kids. (I will be changing classrooms within the school.) So I will write about bother groups' last sessions then.