When MFA students Elise Burchard and KrisAnne Madaus went into the fall 2016 semester, they never expected they’d learn so much, and they certainly didn’t expect they would learn from a group of sixth and seventh grade boys. But, after applying and being selected through The New School for a WriteOn Fellowship to teach creative writing at George Jackson Academy this fall, that’s exactly what happened.
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, 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.
“The Creative Writing Program was very beneficial to our boys because it allows them to take the time to enjoy the process of writing as well as the freedom to use their imaginations,” explained Andre Del Valle, the Head of School at George Jackson Academy. “It is very much a departure of what they are asked to do in class because they normally have to write for a specific purpose or audience. This provides them with a safe space to take chances.”
Every Thursday afternoon Burchard and Madaus would meet their class at the school and teach their 12 students how to dive deeper into their passion for writing. From poetry to non-fiction to fiction, they covered all genres while completing assignments and reading texts that are often geared towards the undergraduate level.
“I feel like we were the ones who got the most out of it, even more than the kids did,” Burchard said about the program. “I know we were teaching them, but every day we went in there we learned so much from being there in the classroom. It reminds you of why you fell in love with reading and writing in the first place. They’re these young, talented, bright students; students who really care about the world. They were confident enough to write with us, it was a really wonderful experience.”
The Creative Writing Class capped off its successful semester on Monday afternoon with a trip to The New School to read its work. Surrounded by New School faculty and students and their own teachers, family and friends, the 12 students read from the poems, personal essays and fiction they crafted with Burchard and Madaus over the semester. Each reading came straight from the heart with topics ranging from war to parents to the Philadelphia 76ers to fear.
“As a Head of School it is great to see the students really take a chance and express themselves through their writing,” continued Del Valle after the reading. “I enjoyed learning more about them through their writing. The things that they talked about in their writing were things that they were clearly passionate about, which allows me more insight as to who they are as young men. They were also very proud of the work that they completed which shows me how they were really into the work.”
Overall, the program leaves lasting impressions on everyone it touches. Ali Osworth, 2016 MFA alumni and part time faculty at The New School, taught the Creative Writing Class at George Jackson Academy during her time as a student in the spring of 2016. She was at Monday afternoon's reading and said it brought back fond memories of her time at the school.
“It’s been a rough 2016, but there is something hopeful in knowing that you’re throwing your lot in for the future,” Osworth said with a smile after the student reading. “That is exactly what we need right now, so if you are really upset with the way that the world is going, you should apply to do this program, because this is how you fix it.”
Above images: 1. MFA Students Elise Burchard and KrisAnne Madaus open the reading with comments. 2. George Jackson Academy student Ethan McLaren reads from his poem collection at his end of semester student reading at The New School on Monday, December 12, 2016. Both photos were taken by Thais Vitorelli.
Story by MFA student Kelly Stewart