Sunday, December 13, 2009

Letter about Writing Program

We are in the midst of graduation events for the students of Spoken Interludes Next, the 8-week outreach writing program I started and run for at-risk children. We had a ceremony at Abbott House where the young men there did a beautiful job reading their stories, and Carolyn Whittle, their teacher, bought them extremely yummy Chinese food to celebrate after.
That's Carolyn with Evan, one of the students, and Jim Morris, who works with the boys at Abbott House.
We also had the graduation event for our classes at Hawthorne Cedar-Knolls and had an amazing day with those kids. I just received this letter from one of the Directors there, and wanted to share it:

Dear DeLauné,

I am writing to convey my sincere admiration and appreciation for the program you have brought to our high school. As you know very well, not many programs are successful with our very special population. We serve the children that society has truly "thrown away". In their short lives our young people have sustained experiences and traumas that would bring many people to their breaking point. As a result, these youth are cynical and have put up walls to prevent getting hurt beyond the wounds they are currently healing.

I didn't know quite what to expect when I came to the final readings. I hadn't had the time to "drop" in during the learning process. And it was a bit frightening for us because we were in the middle of a state audit of our programs and the Regional Associate was invited and attended the final readings as well.

It turned out that I didn't need to worry at all. I needed to have faith in the interaction between your caring and experienced staff and our young people. Scared as they are, our kids wanted to share their thoughts. The selections they read or the teachers read for them were transparent in communicating their fears, their hopes, their dreams, and their traumas. It was very moving.

If you knew their histories, you would be even more amazed at what they shared. We serve children who have witnessed murder, have been prostitutes at age 13 and have been forced into drug distribution as elementary school aged children. Every Friday or day preceding a holiday is a traumatic time in our residential school. Our children don't know if they are welcome back to the chaotic place they call home. The only home they have. Or they may have to stay in the institution with staff that want to be home with their own families. It is so incredibly sad.

These and so many other emotions were so evident in their writings. Their stories conveyed tremendous strength and survival. I heard hope. I see that your program has provided a vehicle for them to put pen to paper as an outlet for this pent up frustration. I could also feel that the participants realized the power of their creative channeling. I just know they will take this experience with them and continue to write. They may never publish. But they may transcend. They may find their voice and their strength.

I couldn't write this to you during the day to day craziness that exists in running a place like this. It took a weekend for me to digest the great meaning in the human interaction you and your staff provided. Our teachers are terrific. However, they are like parents. Too close and too tied to standards and responsibilities to elicit the kind of creativity your staff can pull from our kids. Your program is a perfect compliment to our regular offerings. You may not know that we are NOT funded for any after school activities like clubs that typical kids enjoy. That is another reason your program is so important to a place like our district.

Finally, I will share with you that the SED Regional Associate did tell me that she was also very moved by the presentations. As we all were. Thank you!

DeLauné, I hope we can find funding for another round of classes. I think the kids will line up at the door. The word has spread in the school. Bless you and your staff for what you have done and are doing. You are providing a way for helpless young people to voice their pain and experiences. You are showing them ways to write in order to process their lives and this they can take with them and use in their future as a strategy. This is beyond therapy. It is self realization. And it is portable and not dependent on anyone else. Powerful stuff: writing!

I can't thank you and your wonderful staff enough.


Chris Casey, Ed.D.
Director of Student Resources
Hawthorne Cedar Knolls Union Free School District


Blogger Sheila Deeth said...

Wow! That's so neat. Thanks for sharing it.

December 14, 2009 at 8:24 PM  

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