Monday, April 21, 2008

Notes from the Front

Hey y'all
So, a few of y'all know that through Spoken Interludes, I run an out-reach writing program for at-risk teens called Spoken Interludes Next. Okay, yes, it is the Jr. version of titles, but it is meant to invoke the next generation of writers for the reading series, get it??!! So anyway, if you aren't familiar with it, check out the short and (I know I'm prejudiced, but...) totally heart-warming video here.
When I think about what I miss in LA, teaching in this program tops the list, even before the incredible produce. So, the other day, I got a note from one of the teachers, the amazing Lan Tran, and I wanted to share it with y'all. This note, plus teaching four special writing classes at the local middle school (including the head of publicity at HC's son whom I adore!! Not that I have favorites!) has inspired me to start Spoken Interludes Next here in NY in the fall at a home for boys in the foster system. Now to raise the money! But if I have to do it with my son's crayons and just me, I will. It is too hard to think of a community to close to me that I could bring this program to, and not start doing it. So, here's Lan's note below. Don't these kids sound amazing??
From Lan Tran:
While I've taught writing to adults in the past, this was my first time working with high school kids so I was nervous about how effective I'd be. The students really surprised me from the get-go with their spunk and creativity. One of them loves riding mechanical bulls, another one is in a rock band that regularly performs around town and she wants to be a coroner when she grows up. All of them genuinely pursued their writing projects but I was especially struck by one student who wrote about a trip into space where she lands on another planet, identical to Earth, populated by folks who've died. There, she runs into her rock idol, Joey Ramone, and also reconnects with her brother. It was funny, charming, and highly imaginative (especially one part when Joey Ramone tries to stowaway on her rocket ship). Another student, impressed everyone with a multi-layered, multi-part story about one narrator's relationship with money and life. In the first part, a young boy is weighing coins and comments how even though a quarter is worth more than a penny, if you put enough pennies on one side of the scale, they will weigh more even though their value is not more. In the second section, we learn the boy is wealthy when he saves a fatally wounded homeless kid and pays for his medical bills. In the third section, the boy is now an adolescent and he kills a rat to win some money, much to the displeasure of his father, who says that life is more important than money. The boy argues back, that money can be more important than one life, because money can be used to save many lives. In the final section, the boy is now a successful businessman who owns a multi-national conglomerate dedicated to saving lives. Then he learns that his best friend has died in a car accident and he realizes that despite all his financial power, he couldn't save the life that mattered most. Thus he realizes the weight of money, once more.

On our last day, when the students wrote their thank you letters to the donors saying what they appreciated about the program, I scoured those letters, trying to find what I did right as an instructor and what worked. How could I be a better teacher? To my surprise, what nearly all the students liked most about me had nothing to do with what I consciously did as teacher. They just liked me. It was such a gift! But apparently what they love most about the program is the exposure and one-on-one time with a published author. Who knew?
I learned as much as they did!


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