In chapter 5 of Poetic Potential: Sparking Change & Empowerment Through Poetry, I touch briefly upon the work that poet Robin Reagler accomplished with a Houston-based nonprofit organization, Writers in the Schools (WITS). Because of the power of their mission and vision, it is more than necessary to highlight what they have accomplished as an organization since their inception.
The Power of Storytelling
In 1983, a group of creative writers decided they wanted to show children the power of writing, of reading, and of stories. After discovering some open-minded schools, they paired up with public school teachers to go into the classroom to redefine what kids thought about reading and writing. Both poets and writers alike worked with students to show them the power and joy of storytelling, often hailing from the creative writing program at the University of Houston.
The main belief driving WITS is that storytelling reveals our truest selves. It is highlighted at the top of their website when you go to seek more information and holds true all the way down to their core values. It is a powerful thought – important, too, especially when you consider the diversity of kids in public school systems, all of whom may not feel like their story matters. WITS aims to change that perception.
Diversity of Writing Initiatives
WITS does not use a one-size-fits-all method for their programs. In fact, they have diversified their offerings since their initial run in 1983, ranging from creative writing summer camps to poetry slams to digital game designs that tie in writing with STEM activities. Students gain confidence, improve public speaking skills, and learn the power of their stories, all while honing their craft as writers.
Clearly, their approach works, as they have partnered with over 65,000 students and educators in over 400 Houston classrooms in the past 30 years. Part of their success is thanks to a direct collaboration with teachers, coaching them through different activities such as group writing, lesson planning, and co-teaching. Both the fresh perspectives from the professional writer and the experience from the teacher allows a new credibility to be formed, showing the students that writing is a broad field with many interpretations.
Core Values of WITS
Aligning with their mission of teaching students the joy and power of reading and writing, the core values of WITS are something every educational system should adopt:
- Every child deserves a holistic education that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and personal responsibility.
- Writing is an art that must be practiced and developed over time.
- The relationship between the WITS writer and the classroom teacher is a partnership.
- WITS supports classroom teachers as they adopt new approaches to teaching creative writing.
- WITS writers reflect Houston’s diversity to meet the needs of the community.
- Everyone has a personal story to tell. WITS provides opportunities for storytelling and the skills needed to do it well.
Want to Learn More?
If this nonprofit organization intrigues you as much as it did me, you will want to check out their website (www.witshouston.org). Plus, read about the major takeaways poet Robin Reagler had during her time with WITS in chapter 5 of Poetic Potential, available wherever books are sold!