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Young Writers Programs

January 30, 2006

Every year Arizona State University’s Young Writers Program shares the value of creative writing with hundreds of young students across the Valley. The program, which operates in partnership with local schools and community centers, assists teachers in using creative writing techniques to demonstrate the importance of imaginative work and written communication in their classrooms. 

Each semester, graduate students in ASU’s creative writing MFA program work with individual classrooms in local schools. The graduate students share a variety of writing ideas and techniques with teachers while demonstrating to students the value of writing as an imaginative act.

As a result, teachers learn a wider variety of methods to teach their students the skills of communication, creative expression and the study of language and literature. The students, in turn, become more confident in their writing abilities and discover that being a writer is something within reach for each of them. 

“Many of the students realize for the first time that they can be writers,” says Chad Unrein, founder and director of the program.

For Unrein, one of the most rewarding aspects of the program comes when a principal contacts him about having the program work in a local school, he says. 

Most of the students are in grades four through eight, though some sessions have been held in high school classrooms.

The Young Writers Program selects the schools it will work with through an application process, giving priority to schools listed as “under-performing” by the Arizona Department of Education. For the fall 2005 semester, the program worked with approximately 400 students in 13 classrooms at nine different schools, Unrein says. 

Besides the educational benefits to students, one of the most enjoyable moments for the Young Writers Program comes when the program publishes its annual anthology of student writing, 22 Across. The anthology lets students see their own work in print and convinces many of them that they have the potential to be writers.

The benefits of the Young Writers Program extend beyond the five weeks that the MFA students are at work in a classroom. Many of the ideas and methods used during the various sessions become a regular part of a teacher’s classroom program, Unrein says. 

One challenge faced in the program has to do with the differing educational outlooks that exist between graduate students in a creative writing program and elementary and middle school teachers. By overcoming this difference, the teachers learn to see the value of language and creative writing as educational tools, and the graduate students learn how to teach and communicate in a way that meets the educational standards of a given school or classroom.

However, despite the challenges presented by a program that works to combine the educational expertise of local schools with the imaginative and creative methods that emerge from a university-level writing program, the program remains well worth the effort, says Unrein. 

“Sometimes I get long voice mail messages from former students. They tell me that they know now that they’re good at something, that they can be writers,” he says. “Once the kids realize what they can do, they also start to think about their futures.”

For some kids, after going through the Young Writers Program thinking about the future starts to include thoughts of college. 

While most of the program’s work takes place in the classroom, occasionally an event such as an author reading can bring students to ASU. This gives kids a valuable chance to see what ASU and campus life are like.