Category: KIPP STRIVE

Writing in a time of coronavirus

Perhaps it was an omen.

Three Scribes at KIPP Strive Academy working on their stories before the shutdown. From left: Amaya Conner, Faith Lawrence, Amirah Jabbie.

In January, when we asked students in our Scribes writing program to pick a topic for their stories, we suggested that since it was 2020, they look 20 years ahead and describe the world of the near future. Our students are middle-schoolers and love science fiction, so many of them imagined doomsday scenarios involving meteors and climate disasters.

We had no idea how eerie it would all seem in a few weeks.

Scribes is one of the best things we do at the Wren’s Nest. Every year, we recruit media professionals to mentor middle-school students at the KIPP Strive Academy, a public charter school that occupies the former Joel Chandler Harris Elementary School building near our home in the West End neighborhood of Atlanta. Lain Shakespeare, our former executive director, started the program in 2010. More than 125 students and more than 110 different mentors — writers, academics, journalists, PR people — have participated. This is our 10th anniversary year.

My wife, Pam, and I — both semi-retired journalists — directed this year’s program in consultation with KIPP English teacher Celeste Clark. Twenty-five students and 15 mentors signed up. We would meet every Thursday after school and spend an hour working with the students, getting to know them, helping them choose their topics, talking about storytelling, critiquing their early drafts in Google Docs. You could feel the enthusiasm.

Then the pandemic struck.

The 2019 class of Scribes in the entrance of the old Joel Chandler Harris Elementary School.

We had just finished our March 12 session when the Atlanta school system announced that all classrooms would be closed because of the coronavirus. We were seven weeks into a 12-week course, and we weren’t sure whether we could continue.

We tried to mentor our students online. But as any teacher in America can tell you now, distance learning, while better than nothing, pales in comparison to classroom instruction. Some of our Scribes had internet connectivity issues. Many were distracted by the strangeness of trying to work in a shelter-at-home environment. Some no doubt saw it as an extended snow day.

The goal of Scribes is to produce a collection of stories that the Wren’s Nest publishes in a book. We’ve put out 10 Scribes volumes since 2010 — that’s last year’s cover on the left. Every Labor Day weekend, we host a launch party for the students and their families at the Decatur Book Festival, one of the largest and best book festivals in the country. I’ve been to many of these parties and have never tired of watching bright middle-schoolers become published authors for the first time.

It’s going to be different this year. More than half of the students have not finished their stories, so we don’t have enough content for a traditional book. Nor is the book festival likely to take place as it usually does, with tens of thousands of people roaming the streets and crowding assembly halls and church sanctuaries to hear authors talk. There will be no book launch party for our Scribes and their families this year.

So we’re doing what we can to celebrate these student authors. We’re editing the stories we have, choosing excerpts from some of the incomplete ones, and publishing samples of their work on the Wren’s Nest website in the coming weeks. It isn’t what we planned, but we’ve all had to change plans of late.

We promise these stories won’t be too apocalyptic. One of the unfinished ones, for instance, was going to describe a world overrun with giant cats. The working title: “Cat-pocalypse.”

If only our reality had been as cute.

Middle school writing program looking for mentors

Written for the Atlanta Writers Club

by Ralph Ellis

“I don’t really remember much about my mom.” That’s the beginning of Amien Hicks’ short story – and I think it’s a grabber. Amien is a student at KIPP STRIVE Academy in Atlanta. I was his mentor last spring in a writing program called Scribes.

Fourteen middle school students wrote short pieces of historical fiction on inventors of color, and Amien was assigned George Washington Carver. He started with Carver’s childhood, when slave raiders stole his mother, and moved through his struggles to obtain an education. Carver overcame racism at every step to become an inventor, college professor, and the most famous African-American of his time. Other Scribes wrote about Garrett Morgan, inventor of the traffic signal, and Charles Drew, who pioneered methods for storing blood plasma for transfusion.

This was the fifth student I’ve mentored, and every time has been an eye opener. Not all the stories are historical fiction. With an agriculture theme, my Scribe wrote about a budding peach tree that blossomed despite being bullied by other trees. When the subject was Atlanta institutions, my student wrote about a CNN reporter who turns back an alien attack on New York City. Yes, their imaginations know no limits.

The Wren’s Nest, the Joel Chandler Harris residence that’s now a museum in West End Atlanta, created and sponsors the Scribes program. Harris, author of the Uncle Remus tales, lived in the Queen Anne style home until his death in 1908.

The mentoring program pairs writing professionals, or adults who simply love to write, with middle school students. The mentor spends around an hour a week for a dozen weeks working with the student in a writing lab at KIPP STRIVE Academy or Brown Middle School – both Atlanta public schools in West End. Mentors have been teachers, journalists, college students majoring in English or journalism, social media managers for corporations and public broadcast writers.

How deeply involved does a mentor become? That depends on the student. Kalin Thomas, the program director, provides daily goals for each session, so nobody goes off track. My last Scribe is a confident writer, so mainly I helped with the online research and made minor grammar fixes. Some of my other charges procrastinated, tried to play computer games or agonized over every phrase. Sound familiar? Mentors see a lot of themselves in these young writers.

A few months after my mentoring duties ended, I saw Amien again at the Decatur Book Festival. The Scribes’ stories had been bound together into a softcover book titled “Bright Ideas,” and a launch party was held in a hotel ballroom. The Scribes sat down at a long table and their parents and friends lined up to get books autographed. These middle school students had achieved something special. They were published authors. It was a proud moment for the Scribes – and for me. Being a mentor is not without sacrifice, and not every student is easy. But every session has been gratifying. The Wren’s Nest always needs mentors, so if you’re interested, contact Kalin Thomas here. If you’d like to hear more about my experiences, send a message to rvance52@hotmail.com.

The Second Annual Vouched Birthday Party was a smashing success!

vouchedbday

VouchedATL celebrated its second birthday with the return of the Very Vouched Birthday on Thursday, July 18th at The Goat Farm Arts Center.

Once again, the evening served as a fundraiser for the Wren’s Nest KIPP Scribes writing program. A great number of Atlanta’s literary champions gathered for an evening to read the work of the students who have benefitted from the program. In addition to these readings, attendees heard original works from authors Blake Butler and Matt Bell.

Several of our middle school authors were there with their families. As it turned out, all of the young authors who attended also happened to have their stories read out loud. Seeing the students watch their stories come alive on stage was an incredible experience.

The proceeds from the evening all go towards supporting the Scribes Program. We are so grateful to Laura Relyea of Vouched Books, the event’s supporters, and everyone who attended the party. Here’s a picture of our fancy merch table and a sampling of the books we’ve published through our Scribes Program and high school publishing company.

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KIPP Scribes Book Launch

We don’t mean to brag, but it’s safe to say that our KIPP Scribes book launch was a smashing success.  There is nothing quite like seeing these students hold their books for the very first time, or hearing them read their stories to an enraptured audience. Little did we know, the Scribes are not only writers; they are also phenomenal readers. Check out a few preview pictures, thanks to the lovely Erin Sintos of Tin Can Photography, who captured the day through her lens.

If you weren’t able to attend the party, do not lament! You can buy your very own copy in the Wren’s Nest shop. Our new Wren’s Nest Publishing Company high school literary journal is also available in our shop now.  It’s all so exciting. Just so exciting.

Our student authors and editors are fancy

Hear ye! Hear ye! Books are a-brewin’!

The Decatur Book Festival is just around the corner, which means it’s almost time for the launch of our new KIPP Scribes book and Wren’s Nest Publishing Company Literary Journal. Below are details about each of the book launch parties. You’ll come if you know what’s good for you!

This year, the KIPP Scribes program took a new spin. Instead of recording a true story from an important adult in each of their lives, the students wrote historical fiction stories based in Atlanta. The KIPP Scribes crafted the stories with the help of their mentors and will release their book, Read After Burning, at Decatur Book Festival on Sunday, September 2 from 2:30 p.m.- 4:30 p.m. at CORE Studio (133 Sycamore Street Decatur, GA 30030). The book launch will feature readings from the KIPP Scribes and their mentors, as well as a chance to purchase your own copy signed by the authors.

 

The Wren’s Nest Publishing Company’s sixth annual literary journal, Flyaways, comprised pieces by Atlanta-area high school students. On Saturday, September 1, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m at CORE Studio (133 Sycamore Street Decatur, GA 30030), the student editors and contributors and their friends and family members will join to mingle, congratulate each other, and exult in their accomplishments with lemonade, popsicles, games, and coloring. Pull out your inner child and come share in the revelry!

If you can’t come to our parties, go cry in corner, then show your support  another way :

Buy a copy of each book in our online bookstore. Books will be available for purchase on September 8th. Huzzah!

Tell someone about our writing programs. We will begin accepting mentors for next spring’s KIPP Scribes program in October.  Email Jessie at jessie@wrensnestonline.com for more info. She likes getting emails out of left field.

PS: Please come visit us at the Decatur Book Festival. The Wren’s Nest booth is #612, on Clairmont right off Ponce across from the Old Courthouse. This year we’re sharing our booth with Vouched Atlanta. Come by and see us!

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