826 Valencia: A great example of giving to schools
Giving to schools can take many forms: volunteering, fundraising or even running for school board. A group called 826 Valencia is giving back by teaching kids that writing is fun.
A poem from the Writers' Room
I Lost My Two Brothers
by Mario Martinez
I screamed my brothers' names
because they are young and
I couldn't see them in my sight.
I got to be sad
like a zebra losing water.
I ran all over the place
at the Safeway and
I couldn't find one of them.
I went to the cashier
to use the phone
and say, "Andres and Adrian,
come to the door," and they did
come, they both were crying.
I was a little bit happy
like a hopping kangaroo.
By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff
When a few writers and educators in San Francisco decided to give back to schools, they started a unique organization called 826 Valencia to teach kids, ages 6 to 18, the joy of writing. That was six years ago and no one imagined it would grow into a national organization with branches in seven cities. Or that the volunteers at 826 Valencia - famous writers, talented tutors and regular citizens - would produce such amazing results.
Inspiring kids to write
A San Francisco public middle school, on a gray, drizzly morning. Two boys work at a table covered in scattered papers. A tutor sits beside them.
Boy 1 to Boy 2: "It's a rhyming title!"
Boy 2: "I love poetry."
Boy 1: "Let's read all the poems we wrote."
Sixth-graders in the Writers' Room Boy 2: "Let's read all the 'Families at Home in 2008' poems."
Boy 1: "Yeah, [said with emphatic rhythm] 'Families at Home in 2008.'"
The bell rings, signaling the end of the period.
Boy 1 and 2: "Oh, nooo!"
Reluctantly, the boys pack up their papers and shuffle out of class, continuing to chatter about their poems.
Tutor to fellow tutor nearby: "Eleven-year-old boys reading poetry to each other. That's pretty awesome."
This scene is not from a feel-good Hollywood movie. In fact, this scene is not fiction. It occurred early one morning in November 2008, in a vibrant, imaginatively decorated space called the Writers' Room, a project created by 826 Valencia.
826 Valencia takes off
826 Valencia, a thriving community organization that combines learning and fun, is a place where many a young person realizes, perhaps for the first time, that writing can be exciting.
Co-founded in 2002 by author Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Calegari, 826 Valencia (named after its street address) has grown from a single store-front tutoring center into a national program in seven cities. "The original idea was that, clearly, there is a need to support students," says Leigh Lehman, 826 Valencia's executive director, "and Dave and Ninive had lots of talented friends with time on their hands. They wanted to bridge those two worlds."
The Writers' Room: Deepening the community connection
"We grew quickly at first, but now we're going more slowly," says Lehman. "We're trying to deepen our connection within the community, and one way that is happening is through our Writers' Rooms at James Lick Middle School and Everett Middle School. The idea is to support teachers at the school site by creating a special room where middle-school students can receive tutoring from community members and work in Book of student writing concert with the teacher's curriculum."
It took over a year to bring the Writers' Room at James Lick Middle School, which was the second one to be built in the San Francisco school district, from concept to reality. The first step was to find a school community that was a good fit. Once that happened, 826 worked closely with the principal and the teachers to integrate the program into the school day and year. "The teachers create projects, and I meet with them before they begin the unit to determine at what point it will be most helpful to have the tutors' support," says Emilie Coulson, 826 programs assistant.
Meanwhile, 826 Valencia worked with the district to find a room at the school to transform into a space fit for flights of fancy. No room was readily available, so the school decided that one end of the school library would have to do. Working with the district for building permits required patience, but eventually a wall was built and the room decorated with wallpaper and bookshelves filled with nautical curios and adventure books, and furnished with desks, chairs and a couch. In all, 826 spent $80,000 to create and staff the room, and to produce and design publications of student work. 826 recruited and trained over 100 volunteers, three to seven of whom Coulson calls on any given day.
Maria Jose Gonzalez-Salido, a volunteer at the Writers' Room says: "I love to teach the kids to learn how to write better, either in Spanish or in English. When you are in the Writers' Room, it seems like you are in a magical place, because it doesn't look like any other classroom or any room in your house. You can immerse yourself in your imagination and write."