Summer Fun with 826DC
STEAM Team Workshops for Grades 1-6
- Space Exploration for Beginners: Wednesday, July 16th, 2-3:30 p.m.
- Make Your Own Ice Cream: Wednesday, July 23rd, 2-3:30 p.m.
- Make Believe Science: Wednesday, July 30th, 2-3:30 p.m
Teen Workshops for Grades 6-12
Exquisite Story Lines: Tuesday, July 29th, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
- Writing for Gamers: Tuesday, August 5th, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
We chatted with Lacey Dunham, the Programs Director at 826DC, to learn a little bit more about their organization and what they’ve got planned for us this summer!
What is 826DC?
826DC is dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to supporting teachers with writing projects in classrooms. We believe that strong writing skills are key to a student's future success, and we encourage imagination and creativity within the student's individual voice. One of our co-founders is the award-winning writer Dave Eggers, who is a spectacular person. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on the dedication and support of an amazing volunteer network to help us reach more than 3,000 students in DC each year.
What do you think kids/teens will enjoy the most about the workshops being offered at the Mount Pleasant Library this summer?
The workshops we're offering this summer are like many of our workshops--fun, zany, and creative. We want to engage students who lack confidence in their writing skills and/or hate writing as much as students who are natural storytellers with the written word. Plus, there's an utterly bogus assumption that writing is incompatible with science, math, and technology--that somehow, the word nerds and the math, tech, and science geeks are diametrically opposed. Our workshops intend to show that writing is a necessary and enjoyable skill used everywhere by everyone doing anything. Life is storytelling, and writing is a formal way to tell a story.
What kind of stuff does 826DC do during the school year?We're always busy! We host fiction and poetry writing workshops at our center and in DC schools. We invite classrooms of students to join us for a fast-paced writing, editing, and book making project where each student is given a copy of the book they write to take home. We offer tutoring in our center. We pair published authors with classrooms and teachers for conversations on writing, editing, and publishing. We publish chapter books of student writing. We host a book club where the author of the book we're reading sometimes visits with the students. We collaborate with schools to publish either a paperback or hardcover book of student writing every year, each with an introduction by a professional writer. We pair reading mentors one-on-one with elementary school students who could benefit from individualized literacy time. We support students with resume and cover letter writing, college application essays, and short essay writing test-prep. I could go on and on and on...
What’s the best thing about your job?
The students. Their spirited creativity, their imaginations, their risk taking attitudes. I also love that we make a concerted effort, especially in our tutoring program, which is mostly students on free or reduced lunch, to connect with their families, that we get to know their younger and older siblings and chat with grandma or dad, and how this sometimes extends into meeting with their teachers to be part of the extended support network for that student. My colleague Neekta, who coordinates the tutoring program, is especially great about actively seeking to know each students' family.
I also love working with and getting to know our volunteers, all of whom have creative sides simmering just under their respectable DC jobs, and I love that, because it shows how essential creativity and imagination is to our humanness, even in a city that often is cast by media and television as being populated by un-human bigwigs.
And our office pet is an iguana that eats strawberries and kale, and who is the frequent recipient of passionate friendship letters from the students--what could be cooler than that?
What is a cool project you've done with DC teens?Our Young Author's Book Project is at the top of the list, definitely. The books we publish with teens in this program are physical, actual, books, the type easily at home on the shelves at Busboys and Poets or Politics & Prose, and the feedback from teens is incredible. For them to see their work in a bound, printed copy--this year's book Everyone Is Moving, No One in Place is a hardcover--not only gives tangibility to their efforts, but it legitimizes their individual voice and style, something I think teens often feel is pushed out of them in favor of rules and homework assignments and testing, all of which has a place, of course, but I like that we're able to open the door to teens' unique self-expressions and, sometimes with a little nudging, tell them, "go." And then follow rather than lead.
What’s your favorite thing about the library?
All the books! I would personally wither and shrivel into switchgrass if I wasn't surrounded by books, and I often see the joy books provide for our students, too. Whether it's the student who reads and re-reads Calvin and Hobbes or the student whose mom comes in weekly asking for book suggestions for her son and borrowing books from our center's mini-library, kids connect with stories in all kinds of ways--through images, illustrations, words, rhythm, rhyme. For all the present headlines that the book is dead, I don't see it with the kids and teens in our programs.
What’s your favorite book?
I have so many favorites that it seems unfair to pick one. My list of favorite authors and books would go on and on. I think the important thing is to read what you gravitate towards and occasionally push yourself to different, perhaps more challenging work. Speaking for myself, I grew up reading a steady diet of Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and eventually moved into R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, and Anne Rice, none of which is generally considered "high brow". But it's what I loved and I read non-stop, and it's only now as an adult that I've circled back to the literary, New Yorker-type stuff and the "classics." Even if I never moved on to pick up Moby-Dick, so what? I hope our students feel when they visit 826DC that there's no judgment on what they write or read. We support their writing and reading choices, and we'll offer tips and advice to hone those skills, but we're not going to tell them that the hero can't be an ant the size of Manhattan island and the villain can't be a bunny who wears a dog-skin cape just because it doesn't make sense in the grown-up world, or could change up the plot, or whatever. Both examples are, by the way, actual characters created by students.
Because I used to work as a bookseller and my job was to make book recommendations all day, I can't resist and will recommend a few books for kids and teens. One of my favorite kids books is Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. It's a fun story about cows that discover the power of writing and the power in numbers and they use both to protest against what they see as Farmer Brown's unsympathetic employment practices. The books is brilliant for the way it uses illustrations to convey the underlying message. I also love Helen Ward's Varmints, a beautifully illustrated narrative about the destruction of the environment. Neil Gaiman's book The Wolves in the Walls, illustrated by Dave McKeane, is fantastic. And, of course, Mo Willems and Ezra Jack Keats and David Wiesner.
For teens, I sobbed over the tender and sometimes flinching honesty of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park. I'm a huge David Levithan fan. Sherman Alexie is incredible. A book that seemed to fly under the radar but that I loved was Nick Burd's The Vast Fields of Ordinary. Francesca Lia Block's fairy tale, fantastical versions of Los Angeles and her eclectic, broken, and brave cast of characters are always books I recommend to teens.