Archive for the General Category

The Resuscitation of Childhood: A WITS Reading with Matthew Burgess, Jason Koo, Erin Malone, Emily Perez, and Tiphanie Yanique

Posted in General with tags , , , on April 21, 2015 by writersintheschools

By WITS Interns Laura Burgher and Tracy Gregory

As new interns of the Seattle Writers in the Schools program, we were eager to hear perspectives from the panel of nationwide WITS writers presenting at this year’s AWP conference in Minneapolis. Each writer spoke about past or current residencies, working with students from 2nd grade through high school. We followed the threads of commonality that wove through each of the writer’s experiences as they shared stories of working with students, and the influence this had on their own writing. In their students’ work they all found a freedom, a wide-open space of play and creativity, that by tapping into they were able to access new levels of creativity in their own work. They all spoke very highly of the talent of the students they work with and find immense value in teaching.

Matthew Burgess, who teaches 1st and 2nd grade students in Brooklyn, believes there is an inner poet in all people, and that children especially embody this poet by embracing nonsense. When faced with a nonsensical phrase, the adult mind would dismiss it, while the child “jumps right in to keep the song going.” Matthew credits his students with teaching him how to write. Jason Koo read a poem he wrote based on an assignment he had given to his 3rd and 4th grade students in New York, who he believes are much better poets than adults. While we have suffering, he says, they come to the page with energy, imagination, and fun.

Although creativity overflows in the younger grades, Erin Malone, from our own WITS program in Seattle, recognized that her 5th graders tended to fall back to a “safer” place in their writing by returning to rhyme. When she pushes them to write outside of their comfort zone, their writing reveals a glimpse into their complicated inner lives. Erin noticed a trend in her students’ poems that draw from and address fears. She pulls from a similar place of fear and loss in writing her own book, Hover. (Erin will be reading from Hover this Wednesday, 4/22 at Elliott Bay Books).

Emily Perez, working in high schools in Houston, realized that most of her students censor themselves in their writing. She uses “experiments” to encourage them to take risks. She spoke of working with a student who had already developed her poetic voice, but by providing a safe environment to take risks in, the student wrote in an original and powerful way. Tiphanie Yanique also works with high school students, in New York, and read from an accomplished student writer. She attributes WITS with the development of her teaching and writing skills, which she sees as intricately intertwined.

Using the language of the panelists, including their poems and their student’s poems, we wrote the following interpretation:

wake the poet

find yourself an ocean

bump around in the blue

join in the interior feathered moss

dissolve what ifs (is blindness)


light a match into the windbreak

of your hand

fold tufts of clouds back

like moths eating sky

into your sweaters


scour the lion’s stomach

be the king of anything


when the ink runs dry

you faint

so make sure to sing

beautiful gigantic things



Announcing the WITS ‘Wild’ Contest Winners!

Posted in General with tags , , , on March 10, 2015 by writersintheschools

This winter, WITS invited students in grades K-12, participants in our partner public schools throughout the Puget Sound region and at Seattle Children’s Hospital, to submit an original piece of writing inspired by the theme of “wild” and Cheryl Strayed’s book of the same title.

After reading submissions of poetry, essays and stories that considered ideas of wildness varying widely, from trips to the zoo to ruminations on the Seattle Seahawks, WITS is pleased to announce sixth grade student Lily Williams’s poem “Them” as the contest winner. This year, Lily worked with WITS Writer-in-Residence Rachel Kessler, at Washington Middle School. The contest judges were moved by the poem’s vivid portrayal of a sense of inner wildness.  Lily read her poem with confidence and poise, to a sold out crowd of hundreds last Thursday night, before Cheryl Strayed took the stage.

We are also happy to announce our honorable mentions in the contest.

WITS ‘Wild’ Contest Winner:
Lily Williams, Sixth Grade, Washington Middle School

1st Runner Up:
“Joy” by Abigail Peterson, Second Grade, Cascade K-8 Community School

“In the Cage” by Lauren Allen, Sixth Grade, McClure Middle School
“Wild” by Maya Dow, Fifth Grade, Blue Heron School
“Never Say Never in my Wildest Dreams” by Sam Kuo, Third Grade, Cascade K-8 Community School
“Wild” by Isaac Rosen, Third Grade, View Ridge Elementary School

Congratulations to all of the winners of the ‘Wild’ contest, whose work follows below. Thank you to all of the students who submitted their writing!

By Lily Williams
Sixth Grade, Washington Middle School

they feed off insecurities
they plant poison thoughts
in pure minds

they bark commands
and if you don’t follow them
you’re banished to no-mans-land
filled with undesired loners

toxicity in the smog
air-born sickness
killing everything left
without a gas mask


we feel inferior
to ideas they
promote the ones they
say is normal

but nothing’s truly
you can’t define me
i’m definitionless

to them i’m a
disease a mistake
if i was ‘raised right’
i wouldn’t be this way


i watch everybody
around me wither away
slowly burning from
acid they’ve spilled

the ropes pulling
tightly at necks
the triggers stiff against

cold fingers

dead eyes wander
aimlessly through
a sea of lies that we
call life a crazy life


and the gunshots
they sound the music
of war the weapons
pulled icy blood frozen

swords drawn they shine
in grey-silver moonlight
giving the illusion of safety
no one’s really okay

they call me a rebel
i’m just a raging flame
and all they want to do is
reduce me to ash

i am wild

By Abigail Peterson
Second Grade, Cascade K-8 Community School

The creek gurgles
in the morning air,
the flowers wake up
in the earth.
It is part of a great dance,
never ceasing the steps.
They dance with joy,
and reverse the steps
to find even more happiness.
The humans come to join them.
They dance that way till dusk,
but then the dance becomes
even wilder
with mystery.

In the Cage
By Lauren Allen
Sixth Grade, McClure Middle School

I remember when it jumped. It flew towards us, its claws like hooks, ready to latch on.

It was a typical summer day in Beijing, China: very hot, dry and sunny. We had just moved there from Washington DC. We decided to tour as much as possible, to get to know the city. My family and I love safaris, so we decided to go to the Wilderness Park (still in Beijing) and go on one there. When it was finally our turn after waiting in line, my three younger siblings, my mom and I, 8 years old at the time, were loaded into the back of a large pickup truck with a dozen or so other Chinese people. There was a wire cage surrounding the outsides of the truck. I guess you could say that we were ‘caged in.’ We started the safari by going through gates and high walls that divided one animal species from another. We would go through the lion section, stare at the lions (still moving the whole time) and then go on to the monkeys. I was only a little bit nervous at first as to what would happen if the animals got up and came toward us. The whole time, the tour guide, who would talk on about the animals in full-on Chinese, would occasionally remind us in English to, “Keep your hands inside the cage at all times.”

After a while, we started to get hot, tired and bored all at the same time, like businessmen sitting in a non-air conditioned room, listening to a long conference in a whole other language!

“Is this almost over?” we kept whining, and I’m not sure if we kept our voices down (oops!).

The reply would always be from our mom, saying, “I don’t know. It will be over when it is over.” That drove us crazy.

After visiting a couple more animals, the tour guide handed out carrots, probably to feed the next animal. That was new. Other staff seemed to come out of nowhere, starting to hang up raw chicken on hooks on the outside of the cage. What could be going on? I wondered. A couple of seconds later, we found ourselves with the bears.


At first, the bears were doing nothing special, like all the other animals. Soon though, a bear got up and started to clamber toward us. And then…

…it jumped. Its claws hung onto the wire cage. I had never seen a black bear, well, any bear for that matter, and so close up! I could see the huge teeth like pointed knives, the yellow eyes with a haunted glow, the brown snout, the sharp claws and the massive body. He was as black as coal. What’s happening!? I asked myself, starting to panic. The bear started to rip at the raw chicken with its teeth. Some people jeered and yelled but mostly people plain freaked out. My brother, sisters and I huddled around my mom while more bears came to join the first one, ripping and eating the chickens. Nobody even thought about feeding them the carrots!

One thousand thoughts raced through my head at the same time. What happens if the bears rip through the cage? Those teeth are so big and sharp! We must end up fine though because this is not the first time this safari has taken place, right?! Mommy looks a little scared though too. The craziness went on like that. Now that I look back, I realize that anything could have happened or gone wrong!

Finally, when the bears had eaten all of the raw chicken to the bone (literally), we moved on. Everything died down as we slowly uncoiled. When the safari was completely over, my mom said, “What an adventure!” We certainly agreed.

It was a big, scary and exciting event to that young, eight-year-old me. I will never forget my amazing adventure I had that day.

By Maya Dow
Fifth Grade, Blue Heron School

In memory of the underground railroad, and all who where brave enough to go on its long journey.

Feet slapping,
heart pounding,
green forest
disappears around me
I am wild.
I am free.

Heat burning,
sight blurring,
I am invisible
to all eyes.
never tiring
I am wild.
I am free.

No more working.
No more hardships,
I know
everything and
I am wild.
I am free.
I do not know
who I am or
where I am.
legs pumping,
I am wild.
I am free.

Throat rasping,
breath gasping.
I ignore my
jumping stomach.
I am wild.
I am free.
I am wild.
I am free.

Never Say Never in my Wildest Dreams
By Sam Kuo
Third Grade, Cascade K-8 Community School

When people say, “never in my wildest dreams,” it is supposed to mean something really cool happened that they didn’t dream they could do. I think that is a sad thing because it means they don’t believe enough in themselves and have big, wild dreams.

Russell Wilson had a wild dream to be a NFL quarterback and win multiple super bowls. No one thought he could do it because of his height, but he didn’t listen to them and became a quarterback first for the Wisconsin Badgers and now for Seattle Seahawks and won one Super Bowl so far.  I have his poster on my wall that says “Dream Big. Work hard”.

Leonardo Da Vinci had a lot of wild ideas. One was about a helicopter. He drew it out and knew that he could make it happen if he could find a way to make the blades spin fast enough. Over four hundred years later, people finally built an engine that could spin things fast enough to make it get off the ground and fly, but it wouldn’t have happened without his and other peoples wild dreams.

Gene Kranz is an engineer who had a wild and crazy dream about going to the moon when he was a kid. He was born way back in 1933. He and hundreds, or thousands, or maybe even 10,000 people had to work hard on this dream to make it happen. First people had to design rockets, modules, space suits, space food, oxygen tanks, heat shields, and more, and a million things had to go right before they got to the moon in 1969. He also believed he could get the Apollo 13 people back home safe in 1970 and it happened. I wrote him a letter and he wrote back, telling me to work hard and never give up.

I have some wild dreams. One of them is that if we want to know what the lottery numbers are we could just call and ask and they would give us the numbers! But I had some wild dreams that maybe someday could happen. Like one time I dreamed I could cure cancer. The doctors tried some ideas on my classmate’s sister and none of them have worked to cure her yet. Maybe you could take a virus and put cancer medicine in it and tell the virus to go infect the cancer cells. Or maybe you could make a virus that only kills cancer cells and not the rest of your cells? How would you test something like that on living people, though? Maybe somehow repair the mistake in the DNA that causes the cancer. They did that with cystic fibrosis and it seems to be working for those people, so why not for cancers? Maybe someone will figure out a new idea to cure my classmate’s sister. if not, maybe their idea will cure someone else eventually.

Another time, I had this wild idea that if we built cities with tunnels that people drive through, the pollution would get stuck in there and wouldn’t escape out into the air. I’m not sure exactly how that would work, but I think there should be better ways to keep pollution from getting into the air, and it might be easier to trap pollution than to build cars and other things that don’t make any pollution. Maybe someday someone will figure out how to do it. Maybe someday I will discover a way.

A lot of wild ideas won’t work immediately, and sometimes not ever, but you won’t know which ones will succeed unless you keep trying and trying, even when it doesn’t work. So, next time you hear someone say, “Never in my wildest dreams,” you should say, “You could actually do almost anything if you work at it. You don’t have to have wild dreams but then wild things are less likely to happen to you. Dream big! Wild dreams are awesome!”

By Isaac Rosen
Third Grade, View Ridge Elementary School

Animals romp
Tall towering trees
Endless green grasslands
Nests of striped bees
Not a person in sight
For miles around
Unknown creatures wait to be found

WITS Broadsides Project, Starring Poems by Seattle Children’s Hospital Patients

Posted in General with tags , , , , , on February 17, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Jeanine Walker, WITS Program Director

On a sunny Friday morning, 9 a.m., Sierra Nelson and Ann Teplick trekked to the Seattle Arts & Lectures office in Georgetown to convene with me over coffee and tea about the poems we’d select for this year’s Writers in the Schools (WITS) collaboration with the School of Visual Concepts (SVC). The project—its fifth year in the making now—is a partnership between WITS, SVC, and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

photo 2

How does it work? Each year, WITS places Sierra and Ann at the hospital as writers-in-residence. Working with the hospital’s Education Department and the Pediatric Advanced Care Team, the poets visit students in their hospital rooms, in the schoolroom, and in the The Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit to lead generative writing activities, working either in small groups or one-on-one. Sierra and Ann, replete with a full bag of lessons adaptable to any age, inspire and guide the students to write image-filled, inventive, emotional, and delightful poems. The poets then compile many pages of these student poems from the past year—all of them moving and completely irresistible—and we three, as a group, struggle to narrow down the poem selection further to match the number of SVC letterpress artists who will volunteer their time and talents this spring to interpret these poems into beautiful, colorful, inspired letterpress designs hand-printed as broadsides.

The process of poem selection is, perhaps needless to say, a challenge. Understandably, Ann and Sierra are often attached to the young writers: they remember the moment each poem came into being, the memory often bound up in the intensity of the hospital setting or the circumstances of that young writer or their family. In some cases they may have worked with a student over a long period of time and have gotten to know them and their struggles, along with their writing, so that it’s often hard to separate the poem from the poet. That’s where I come in—though, occasionally, I, too, have met the poet—and then it’s even more difficult. I do, though, attempt to lend a degree of objectivity, and all in all, we aim to end with a collection that is full of unique images, just the right mix of younger and older students, and a celebration of the imagination exploring a range of feelings, from the difficult to the playful, which will be ripe for the picking by the letterpress artists.

photo 1

We’re not quite ready yet to announce which poets will have their poems made into a broadside this year, but we know that we’ll know come March 17, when the lot of us—poet-teachers and artists—will gather at SVC’s brand-new space and choose which artist will work with which student poem. It’s a lively, exciting event, oftentimes with the artists’ hands shooting up in the air, ready to claim the rights to their favorite poem.

This year’s beautiful broadsides will be part of our live auction at our benefit gala on March 12, as will a spot at the final collating party, in which the artists present their completed work and speak about their design process and the inspiration behind their work. We look forward to sharing these with you!

Hello world!

Posted in General on December 2, 2009 by writersintheschools

Welcome to Writers in the Schools (WITS)! We are excited to have entered the blogosphere; we have lots to tell you! Each week one of our fabulous writers-in-residence will tell you a story of their time in the classroom. They will muse on their students, share lessons, and showcase the amazing writing their students have produced. They will tell us about the challenges and blessings of the important work they do. In addition, WITS Program Manager WITS  Jeanine Walker and I will keep you up to date on good news, opportunities for students, and items of interest.

At WITS we believe that, by working as a professional writer, each writer-in-residence has a unique and special background for teaching. This results in one-of-a-kind lessons, experiences, and writing. We are excited to have a place to showcase this great variety and we hope you are, too!

Rebecca Hoogs, Director of Education