The culture of a school library is sometimes seen as a space of boredom and monotony. However, as a librarian, I am open to new ideas, and this is how I came to dream, organize, and create the Warriors Writing Club. While reflecting on the process, I realized it was a serendipitous discovery. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of serendipity is “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” The creation of the club happened by chance.
Three years ago, one of my students politely asked if I could review his personal statement for his college application. We sat down and discussed the prompt, as well as his vision for the final writing piece. Through a series of questions, I helped him unpack his ideas, and he went on to write a solid essay. That essay was an important factor in the application process, and consequently he was accepted into his top three college choices. There were several lessons he learned from the experience as well. First, he understood that he had some unique experiences, both positive and not so positive, that contributed to his life choices. Second, he gained the confidence to recognize that his narrative was a valuable one that could creatively capture the attention of readers. In essence, he learned how to stand out in a sea of applicants. This is something most students don’t think about when they write. Instead, punitive measures (mostly implemented by state standards and mandates) can cause writing to be an unpleasant experience that students want to avoid. Lastly, he was able to identify and write about an influential mentor in his life who guided him both academically and socially.
For me, the most exciting part of that exchange was teaching him that nonfiction does not have to be stuffy; it could be exciting and interesting. The experience also rekindled my own passion for writing that was sparked as a past participant in the Columbus Area Writing Project. An additional bonus was that it gave me another teaching tool to meet the needs of students. Soon word traveled throughout the student body that I was available to tutor and provide writing consultation for students. I was determined to gather resources and organize a venue to teach and promote creative nonfiction writing among students. Informally, I was witnessing students evolve into more confident writers who wanted and needed to know the value of telling their personal stories.
Here are the steps I took to establish the Warriors Writing Club. First, I enlisted the assistance of the co-director for the Columbus Area Writing Project, who connected me to the Ohio Writers Guild. This is an organization of exemplary MFA students who are committed to community service. Using their ideas and experiences, they enable students to think about the writing process as a strategy for academic and social emotional growth. The goals of the club were to lead safe, non-judgmental sessions where writing is viewed as a gift they share with others. Second, because I was inviting community members into the school environment, a partnership had to be formally established through our district’s business and community partnership application process. The goals of the writing club were in alignment with the core goals of the school district’s. Third, I initially intended to target junior and senior students who would be applying to colleges. However, I thought it would be a great idea to recruit freshmen students because they too would need strong writing skills to tell their rich and powerful stories. Fourth, I explained to students the purpose and goal of the writing club and each needed parental permission to release student information (e.g., photos, audio, video, and original works). I was also interested in changing their perspectives on writing early on. Recruitment for the writing club consisted of visiting freshman and sophomore English classes through out the day and posting flyers in the main hall ways of the building. Additionally, I requested the principal make daily announcements about the club and its benefits. There were lots of questions and some students felt awkward and nervous about letting other classmates know they were interested in writing. This was particularly true for the male students. Lastly, we located a small and private space accessible through the library that was available for writing sessions.
The first year the writing club enrolled seven students, one male and six female students. This was not surprising to me as I expected female students to respond more favorably to writing than male students. In addition to myself, there were three writing consultants who specialized in creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and prose. During our sessions we utilized free writes, nature writings, sensory writings, social and political commentaries, how-tos, as well as moments of sorrow and mishaps. Likewise, we also introduced students to new ways of looking at familiar genres, like traditional fables, folktales, and fairy tales, by having them rewrite them with unpredictable endings. Some of the students’ evaluations of the club included:
- “This is different than classroom writing”
- “I am able to let out my frustrations when I come here”
- “Some of the students have some good ideas for writing” and
- “This is helping me to think about writing in a different way”
During our second year, with three different writing consultants, we enrolled 14 students, four female students and ten male students. Of course, this changed the dynamics of the sessions, but this gave reluctant males a forum to talk about their writings. After several sessions, one student remarked, “Hey, I was thinking, this is kinda nice… you can actually major in writing like this in college… I’m thinking about that.” Imagine how surprised we were to witness that a-ha moment with him.
Because of its success, each year we will continue to grow the club and examine more carefully how to collaborate with classroom teachers. Students should not view writing as a separate entity outside of the classroom. Instead they should utilize the skills and experiences they have learned within these writing sessions to increase their overall writing proficiency. Eventually, I would love to see a writing center emerge from the school library to promote the academic and social emotional benefits of writing for students, and I’m so thankful for serendipity that opened the door to new experiences, new opportunities, and new perspectives.