This year has been nothing short of challenging, as students, teachers, and caregivers were thrust into a sudden experiment in working and learning from home due to our global health crisis. Distance learning itself brought its own set of challenges, with students struggling to overcome the digital divide and having to adapt to virtual lessons, new tools, and technology—which oftentimes are not available in different languages, creating another barrier for English-language learners.
While educators and school districts scramble to figure out the future of learning, 826 continues to play a vital role in keeping students engaged and thinking creatively. Although our writing centers and storefronts remain closed this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students at 826 chapters are still busy writing.
Across the country, they’re innovating new projects, workshops, and camps to continue offering students opportunities to write and share their voices this summer—ranging from a collaboration with a NASA scientist to a filmmaking project to college essay support—to keep students engaged and connected.
Our virtual summer programs offer a hint at what’s to come for The 826 National Network as we put our heads together to provide students the best learning experience possible.
#HashtagActivism and a space writing camp at 826DC
DC students, in grades 4-7, embarked on space exploration this summer as they joined 826DC’s Rewrite the Stars summer camp. In this cosmic workshop, students investigated stars, took a virtual field trip to the Library of Congress, and learned with a NASA scientist how to write other-worldly stories. Pairing science and writing, they covered everything from ekphrastic poetry to comics to character design.
And while younger students investigated the space, high school students turned their focus to their own city in the #HashtagActivism workshop, where they voiced up about changes they want to see in DC. In the first session, topics ranged from a campaign to convert the city’s abandoned buildings into houses or apartments, to an urgent need for new safety precautions and sanitizing regulations in these pandemic times.
Writing as a healing tool at 826CHI
826CHI students are coming together this summer to embrace a sense of community and heal collectively as they process challenging events through writing, food, and the arts. The Glorious, Poetic Rage workshop kicked off last month with high school students discussing complex themes, such as developing identities and coming of age in this challenging time, and interviewing artists who have been leading Chicago’s cultural moment.
While teens are diving deep into poetry as a self-exploration tool, middle schoolers are learning the ins and outs of food reviews from top chefs and other young food experts. They will be developing their writing skills and taste buds, crafting reviews that will be read by foodies and chefs all over Chicago. Nothing like poetry and good food to heal the quarantined soul.
826 Boston students are getting ready for college
Through Summer College Essay Boot Camp and On-Demand College Essay Support, college-bound students are getting a head start on their personal statement essays. The Summer College Essay Boot Camp offers students in-depth lessons on brainstorming, outlining, and drafting/revising, whereas the On-Demand College Essay Support videos allow students to work independently, with access to videos and other materials to help bring their stories to life.
Community teaching artists dared students to imagine the impossible at 826LA
826LA’s Summer Writers Workshop (SWW) invited students to dream big this summer. In this creative workshop, experienced teaching artists and educators led students in brainstorming sessions in response to prompts such as “What are seven impossible things you’d like to achieve?”
Other lessons included art activism, superhero stories, and neighborhood exploration, where students were asked to imagine their ideal city. Learn more about the talented artists and educators behind this year’s SWW on 826LA’s Instagram page.
“I learned that there isn’t really anything that is impossible if I put my mind to it,” participant Deisy typed in the Zoom chat.
Michigan students enjoyed delicious lunch poems
Summer at 826michigan is delicious! In their Lunch Poem workshop, students explored how poetry can sound (and taste) like. The Lunch Poem project was inspired by poet Frank O’Hara’s series of everyday poems that can be composed on a lunch break. Sessions included poetry readings followed by exercises in different poetic techniques. The project also offered students an opportunity to share their work aloud, with the option of a class publication.
Another option for students was the Writers Club, a special and rewarding six-session writing project, where kids worked in small groups each week. Volunteers guided students as they wrote, edited, and published their stories, with topics ranging from the intersection between hunger and justice to delicious ice-cream flavors.
Building community through environmental justice at 826 MSP
Through the lens of environmental justice, 826 MSP’s summer programming gave students a safe space to process challenging current events. In each session of the Outspoken Outdoors summer camp, students discussed topics related to the environment, such as water testing. Then they moved into discussions, citing recent issues such as the Flint water crisis and Standing Rock protests as real-life applications.
The purpose of parks in cities also became a discussion, with students sharing their thoughts on homelessness and encampments across Minneapolis. By approaching writing as a civic engagement tool, students embraced a newfound sense of community and the power of their own voices in making a difference.
New Orleans is all about celebrating Black joy!
To honor the greatness of Black life, New Orleans students are writing about things that bring them joy: family, food, friends—whatever makes their hearts smile. Students can use available templates or create their own joy list to celebrate the richness of Black culture.
This summer, kids can also try their hands at bookmaking through Beaucoup Easy Books. With bookmaking kits and tips from staff, students can craft their own books, proving that they only need imagination, pen, and paper to make magic happen.
826NYC keeps amplifying quaranTEEN voices throughout the summer
826NYC’s quaranTEEN voices is going strong, connecting young writers to critically-acclaimed authors from all over the country. Pitchaya Sudbanthad is the latest writer to join this workshop, sharing his journey and expertise when it comes to writing about places, family histories, class stratification, and more.
826NYC also offered other exciting opportunities for youth to connect, write, and experiment this summer. In a series of different short workshops, students tackled all sorts of themes, from map creation to filmmaking to songwriting, to explore writing and unlock their creativity.
Anti-racism work, food recipes, and art exploration in San Francisco
Like the rest of The 826 Network, 826 Valencia is offering virtual summer camps for students this year. And despite San Francisco being a technology hub, many students in the city still lack access to the internet and proper devices to learn online. To help students struggling with the digital divide, the 826 Valencia team distributed their laptops to families who needed those devices and coached students and families over the phone to help them access these new learning tools.
And once students were finally able to access the digital resources, they could enroll in different workshops based on their age group and interests. Younger students worked on collaborative stories about the importance of speaking up and compromise, writing color poems and creative recipes. Older students embarked on an artistic exploration of famous paintings such as Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night to recreate their own versions at home.
Summer is always an exciting time at The 826 Network, where we celebrate student work and get ready for the upcoming school year. With the future of learning facing new complications as we head back to school, The 826 Network remains committed to offering students and teachers resources to help them navigate this new era, whether in person or online. Check out 826 Digital for special lessons, writing prompts, and other resources, and stay tuned as we launch into new possibilities for back to school.