Over this past semester, I was part of an amazing creative writing program at the University of Utah. Wasatch Writers in the Schools (WWiTS) is explained in depth by our news desk, but to experience this program firsthand is something else entirely. It’s safe to say, I’m glad I rearranged my entire schedule this semester just to make room for this particular class because this program has given me so much.

Every Monday, my fellow classmates and my professor meet up in a science building, excited to reflect on the previous week’s lesson and discuss what we have in store for the coming week. We take time to talk about what went well and what didn’t. Then, the student who is teaching this week practices their lesson, and we work together to smooth out any kinks and give advice. On Wednesdays, we head to Glendale Middle School and put the lesson to test. This semester, we worked with eighth graders from Mr. Parker Jackson’s class. There was a total of 55 students across two different classes.

The real magic happens in the classroom. While some lessons are a miss, most are a hit. Our main goal, which we settled on the very first day of class, is to make sure the students realize they not only have a voice, but that their voices are important and heard. Glendale Middle School is a Title I school with a diverse student body where a significant portion of the students come from low-income or first-generation families. For many of the students, college is a faraway and uncertain dream. Our hope through these creative writing lessons, which range from covering topics like imagery, plot and character creation to creative endeavors like blackout poetry, is to make sure these students cultivate the confidence to share their experiences and not be ashamed or shut down.

Michelle Donahue is a PhD student at the U who coordinates the Writers in Schools program. courtesy Michelle Donahue.

As we approach the end of the semester, it’s sad to see the program coming to an end. Teaching every week has been nerve-wracking and beneficial. It’s a special thing to help guide someone in putting words on a page. At the end of each class, the students volunteer to share what they’ve written. They’ve become more comfortable sharing with us, asking for help when they are struggling and realizing that both writing and attending college are well within reach. More often than not, the student teachers are left stunned by how prolific and deep the students’ stories are. The feelings are raw, as they tend to be with 14-year-old’s, but this is why their writing is so beautiful.

While the program is meant to give undergraduate students experience in teaching, we spend a lot of time learning from the kids as well. We’ve learned the right balance to cultivate trust with them, so if they feel shy about sharing their work, they feel comfortable asking one of us to read. The WWiTS program is a great way to get involved in the community and give young writers a chance to share their ideas and words while learning about your own writing as well. They say teaching is the most rewarding profession, and I can’t argue with that after taking this course.

At the end of the semester, the program puts on a pizza party for the kids at the U. There they are able to read their work from the semester and get a look at the U’s campus as well. This program has helped me focus in on my career goals. I would recommend all students to sign up for ENGL 5810, whether you are an English major or not.

In fact, we are looking to expand the program to middle schools all across the valley and eventually to high schools as well. The program is currently in the process of building a board of directors to oversee teaching and other aspects.

Take it from someone who has gained more from this class and program than I can explain — this is not something you want to miss out on. There’s no way to describe the joy of helping a student write about their experiences, their heritage and helping to bring their imaginations to life. I suppose that’s the beauty of being a writer. You’re always a work in progress. 

To be a part of the Wasatch Writers in the Schools project next year, please contact Michelle Donahue (wasatchwits@gmail.com) or Palak Jayswal (p.jayswal@dailyutahchronicle.com) after filling out this application.

p.jayswal@dailyutahchronicle.com

@palak_jayswal

Palak Jayswal is the Arts Editor. She is a senior at the University of Utah, pursuing a degree in journalism and a minor in creative writing. She loves writing, books, music and all things art.

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