Writers in the Schools
By: Kelly Krumrie, Adjunct Faculty, Department of English & Literary Arts
In Winter 2022, the Department of English & Literary Arts relaunched our Writers in the Schools Program after a six-year hiatus. Writers in the Schools (WITS), following California Poets in the Schools and the Teachers & Writers Collective, places writer-mentors in K-12 classrooms in order to develop and facilitate creative writing programming. This allows creative writing instruction to take place in schools where it may be deprioritized as it is often not part of state standards. Additionally, teachers may not be familiar with contemporary writers and movements which can be more engaging for youth audiences.
I connected with Heather Vaughn, Associate Director at the Ricks Center for Gifted Children. The staff at Ricks was enthusiastic about having us visit four of their classrooms. DU undergraduate and graduate students met with their partner teachers and developed lessons on imagery, poetic forms, and political movements for third, sixth, and seventh graders. They allowed students to write whatever they wanted without fear of correctness or grade, including illustration and textual collage. The teachers expressed gratitude for the introduction of creative writing into their curriculum. They observed increased student engagement: “Students who won’t write are writing!”
At the same time, DU students studied histories of programs like these and their relationships to social justice movements, public schooling, and publishing. They experienced powerful changes in their own understanding of education:
“I poured my full energy into giving my all to the students at Ricks. Ricks was a change in environment where I was able to fully live in the moment for an hour, and teaching was profoundly helpful in a way I could not have imagined at the beginning of the course. This experience had a profound effect on me… I think the way I engage in education now is more informed and fundamentally different.”
“The service learning aspect of this course is another thing that was new to me, especially in the university setting. All of my classes before this one at DU had been very structured, very contained within the walls of the classroom, and not really connected to the surrounding community. This idea of education being linked to uplifting and building the community around the site of education is one that will definitely stick with me into the future.”
Thanks to an Institutional Capacity Building Grant from DU Grand Challenges and CCESL, I was able to spend time during the Spring 2023 quarter revising and cataloging course materials and connecting with other faculty across campus. I was also able to debrief with Ricks staff and make plans for next year as well as reach out to other schools. I was assisted by current English Ph.D. student Rachael Aderoju who archived our lesson plans and example student poems.
Rachael also wrote an article for the department newsletter. I’ll be presenting on WITS alongside University Writing Program faculty at the Conference on Community Writing this fall.
Additionally, I was able to mentor three WITS students in their ACE Student Scholar Grant. They used the grant to continue teaching at Ricks over the Spring term, and they designed and printed an anthology of the children’s poetry. The anthologies will be distributed to the students and staff at Ricks as well as the DU community.
Thanks to the funding and support from CCESL, we now have a powerful archive that will guide future teachers and students in the necessary work of artistic expression.