"Every time I walked out of that classroom at GJA, I left having learned just as much as our students did, if not more. This talented and inspired group of boys has taught me so much over the past year, and I am so lucky to have been a part of WriteOnNYC for as long as I have." - Elise Burchard, WriteOnNYC Fellow and 2017 graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at The New School.
This spring, MFA students Elise Burchard and Grady Granros had the opportunity to share their passion for writing with young minds. Through the WriteOnNYC program, Burchard and Granros spent the semester gaining hands-on teaching experience as they led George Jackson Academy's sixth and seventh grade creative writing class. They introduced their students to new readings and helped them practice writing poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.
According to its website, "George Jackson Academy is the only independent, non-sectarian, need-blind upper elementary and middle school for bright boys from low-income families in NYC." It strives to “engage underserved, academically capable boys from fourth to eighth grade,” and, for the past year and a half, has partnered with The New School’s MFA in Creative Writing Program to bring its students better writing opportunities. The Creative Writing elective at George Jackson Academy has received funding from David and Vicky Gottlieb, along with their children Kay and Ben.
On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, their class gathered for a special end of the year reading at The New School where they shared the inspiring work they created during the school year.
"The end of the semester reading is an important event because the students get to show faculty, friends, and family all they have learned in a grand auditorium at The New School," said Burchard who was also a WriteOnNYC fellow during the Fall of 2016. "Additionally, I think the reading important for writing students at The New School. The reading is where I first learned about WriteOnNYC. I found the boys so inspiring that I had to find out how I could get involved in something like it. Their work reminds us why we create. The Spring reading was really special for me as my parents were in the audience, my dad even teared up watching it and I had never seen him so moved by something. WriteOnNYC and the students over at GJA have helped me grow, not only as a writer, but as a person."
Like Burchard, Granros also got a lot out of his experience teaching creative writing at George Jackson Academy and hopes that one day his own son will have a similar opportunity as the boys he taught.
"Working with the boys on their poems and short fiction was a truly enlightening experience," said Granros. "I remember the first few classes, I was wondering just how much they were getting out of the materials we were covering. We had jumped right into short story structure, comparing the classic fairy tale Red Riding Hood with Angela Carter’s reinterpretation, The Werewolf. The students had been encouraged to create fictional characters with clear goals, and then to devise sinister objectives. Or to flip the script on a familiar tale. Always enthusiastic, they were laughing and talking and full of an energy all their own. It was great to see them enjoying themselves, but it wasn’t until they handed in their first assignments that I realized just how much and how quickly they were picking up the skills and strategies we were talking about. Reading their work that first time was exhilarating. There were other galaxies, dark twists and wild action—all the stuff that had thrilled me when I was a twelve-year old attempting to craft stories.
"That’s the cycle of creative writing, of mentorship, and its sometimes that gets lost in the modern educational system with its emphasis on ELA testing and school entrance exams," he continued. "Even with my own son, only a first-grader, I can already see a certain, formulaic brand of academic writing dominating the curriculum. Boxy paragraphs with topic sentences, supporting details and so on. That has its place, but I only hope that at some stage—and the earlier the better—he gets a chance to participate in a program like WriteOn. And more importantly with peers like the students at George Jackson Academy, who take such pleasure in expressing themselves in language. They have a lot more to say about our world than we often give them credit for."