WMWP youth and family writing programs offer students the opportunity to uncover creativity in multiple genres with more depth and scope than class time may allow. These program also provide teachers opportunities to improve their practice and build their professional learning networks by sharing ideas and strategies for engaging writing instruction. Youth writing programs can provide teachers and students respite from the focus on high-stakes test preparation with exploration and enjoyment of creative writing.
WMWP youth and family writing programs vary from year to year, depending on contributions and grant funding. Programs currently include a spring Youth Writing Adventure on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus and a summer writing and history camp presented in partnership with the Springfield Armory National History Site and the Veterans Education Network. See details below.
2016 Youth Writing Adventure
WMWP’s 2016 Youth Writing Adventure hosted students, grades 5-10, from several Western Massachusetts schools for a day of multi-genre writing workshops led by participating teachers and Teacher-Consultants on March 15, 2016, in Bartlett Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
This youth writing program would not have been possible without the generous donations from our community and those who believe in the positive impacts it can have on students and teachers. Thanks to the support of the UMass Minute Fund Campaign, we were able to raise over $4,000 to cover costs for this event.
One aim of this program was to offer multiple opportunities for students and teachers to explore new relationships with writing, and other writers, not only for inspiration and growth but also for pure enjoyment of the process. Few students can develop the interest needed to improve and diversify writing skills without opportunities to explore creativity and communication. Being able to foster these opportunities in the classroom is undoubtedly a shared goal among teachers. This program aimed to support those goals with a WMWP mission in mind—to facilitate collaboration, community and professional growth among educators.
Participating students and teachers came from Amherst Regional Middle School, Birchland Park Middle School in East Longmeadow, Donahue School in Holyoke, Duggan Academy in Springfield, Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield, Montessori School of Northampton, Northampton High School, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, Mohawk Trail Regional School in Shelburne Falls, SABIS International Charter School in Springfield, and Ware Middle School.
Some teachers who brought students played a supportive role throughout the day as well as with students’ later revision and submission of writing for publication. Other teachers were workshop presenters and participated in one professional development session with WMWP co-directors to collaborate on planning, polishing, and aligning expectations for the workshops. Presenters offered their workshops twice on the day of the event, one session geared for grades 5th-7th grade and the other for 8th-10th. Each student participated in two of the following workshops:
- Short stories
- Poetry inspired by injustice
- Description-focused fiction
- Narratives for awareness & activism
- Songwriting in response to learning
Students had three weeks to revise and polish their pieces for the culminating anthology of student writing, Emerging Voices.
2016 Springfield Armory Youth Writing Camp
Even though school was out, Springfield middle school students kept learning and having fun through a unique program at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site in June. A partnership of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (WMWP), the Springfield Armory, and the Veterans Education Project (VEP) provided students with an exciting and enriching program, “History Alive: Writing Springfield Then and Now.” Students were given the opportunity to learn about the history of the Armory and its importance to Springfield and our country, to build their writing skills, and to create multimedia presentations to share their learning.
The group of 15 students entered tentatively, trying to find their place in the new group setting, but were immediately engaged with activities that brought them in contact with the museum’s historic grounds, collections, and displays. A student-led scavenger hunt helped them locate items in the museum that sparked their interest to share with peers. Building community through this process, the students were ready to dive in.
Springfield teachers Rick Haggerty, Lisa Murphy, Jim Franz, and James Davenport worked hard to prepare a meaningful program with the support of staff from the Armory, WMWP and VEP. After familiarizing students with the long and rich history of the Armory, the program focused in on World War II and the Home Front. Students learned about the innovative role that the Armory played in arms production and the important part that women and African Americans played in both manufacturing arms and keeping the patriotic spirit alive. Through primary source materials, students explored and analyzed letters, propaganda posters and images to learn about this specific moment in history.
Two compelling speakers were invited to engage with the students—veteran Ray Elliot and history educator Reba-Jean Pichette-Shaw. Elliot is a 92-year-old veteran of the segregated Army Air Corps who was involved with the important “Double V” campaign: “Victory at Home over racism and Victory Abroad over fascism.” The movement was a response to the unfair and racist treatment that African Americans were facing at the time, both in the military and the civilian workplace, despite their eagerness to join forces with other Americans in the war effort. They felt ambivalent and frustrated about risking their lives for an America that considered them only partial citizens, worthy of only some of the rights given to white Americans. The multiracial audience of students was engaged by this history and listened attentively to the stories Elliot told.
The following excerpt, written for the Pittsburgh Courier in January 1942 by James G. Thompson, reflects upon the dilemma that he and black people such as Elliot faced as they contemplated what their role in the World War II would be:
Being an American of dark complexion and some 26 years, these questions flash through my mind: Should I sacrifice my life to live half American? Will things be better for the next generation in the peace to follow? Would it be demanding too much to demand full citizenship rights in exchange for the sacrificing of my life? Is the kind of America I know worth defending? Will America be a true and pure democracy after the war? Will Colored Americans suffer still the indignities that have been heaped upon them in the past? These and other questions need answering; I want to know, and I believe every colored American, who is thinking, wants to know. …
Elliot’s challenging and moving story, still resonant today, brought history to life for students. His presence with the students helped them connect to the complicated past that still lingers in the problems our society faces today.
Pichette-Shaw is a living history actress and educator who provided a different experience altogether. Bringing to life the Norman Rockwell print “Rosie to the Rescue” through enactment and conversation, students learned about the roles of women, the pressures on the home front, and the social and material circumstances involved in the wartime culture.
In addition to getting students to “think like historians,” another important goal was to engage students in authentic writing experiences that could reach real audiences. Teachers helped students achieve this by guiding the creation of audio and video productions through which students could share their learning with community audiences. By the end of the week, each student created a final presentation about a specific artifact in the museum, and these recordings will be shared with the public via the Armory Facebook page and website.
YouTube playlist: Student Presentations
Another way the program connected students with real community audiences was by inviting them on Haggerty’s radio program on Valley Free Radio. Students learned about the job of a park ranger through interviewing the Armory rangers, and these interviews became a part of Haggerty’s show “Kickin’ It for Peace, Culture & Education.” In both media projects, students were writing, revising for a specific purpose and audience, and connecting their thinking and learning to a wider community audience.
Valley Radio Broadcast: Students interviewing Armory park rangers
The Armory program was provided free to students through grants from the National Writing Project and the National Park Service and in-kind contributions from the Armory, WMWP, and VEP. The partnership is currently seeking financial support for future summer programs at the Armory. Organizations interested in partnering to create an even better program in summer 2017 should contact WMWP at email@example.com.
2015 Springfield Armory Youth Writing Camp
In partnership with the National Park Service and with support from the National Writing Project and with assistance from the Veteran’s Education Project, WMWP facilitated an immersive professional development program for Springfield educators that led to the launch of a four-day youth writing camp at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site that drew more than 20 middle schoolers, most of whom had never stepped inside their city’s historical museum before.
Over those four days in the program, middle school students read, wrote, debated, explored, reflected, played, created, and shared ideas on the grounds of the Armory – all leading to a summer ’zine publishing project, Write, Learn, Create! - designed to capture what they had learned.
A description of the 2015 Springfield Armory program was published in MiddleWeb: "Writing About the History in Your Own Backyard," and an infographic charting the development process, "Youth Writing Program Resources," is available on "thinglink.