It is 9 a.m. on a Saturday, yet Carl Wilde Elementary School's doors are open to receive more than 70 eager students. Crowding into the front office of the Indianapolis Public School #79, the children mingle as their chatter rises in volume.
"Sign in!" Josh Peavler -- Mr. Peavler to the kids -- reminds them from his position behind the desk, calling above the clamor to the new arrivals. Swooping into the room, his wife, Jamey, gathers the children and ushers them to the gym.
Students continue to file in. It's the weekend, and a lot of young kids are probably at home watching cartoons or playing video games, but these children have come to write.
Carl Wilde's students are participating in Writing Camp: an extracurricular creative writing program created by the Peavlers and designed to encourage young kids to embrace the joys of writing. The program is also supported by Second Story, a creative writing program for kids inspired by David Eggers' collaborative 826 Valencia. Scott Woolgar and Ken Honeywell founded Second Story in 2007 along with some friends who believed in the value of teaching creative writing to kids. Since establishing the non-profit organization, Woolgar and Honeywell have adapted the program to suit the needs of Indianapolis Public Schools and to focus on student workshops.
Ken Honeywell believes it is important to demonstrate that writing is fun. The scaffolded learning that Second Story provides serves to help prepare students for ISTEP, yet that is only part of the story. One of Honeywell's main goals has been to "make writing seem less ominous" for children.
Today, the Carl Wilde students will learn how to craft good beginnings. Seated in groups of eight, the children hunch over at their prospective tables. Lips pursed, foreheads wrinkled in concentration, one little writer's pen dances across his page. He is drawing his story. At a nearby table, Honeywell drops onto his knees, putting himself at eye level with the seated third-grade girls. Prompting them to share their oral stories, he gently affirms, "I can't wait to hear all about it." As one student, Neveah, tells Honeywell her story, she swings her feet with the cadence of her words.
For two and a half hours, the teachers and mentors interact with the children. They listen to their story ideas: a zombie attack, fighting a shark in an aquarium, a pet bunny rabbit who escapes from her cage and gnaws on mommy's shoe. Jamey Peavler, IPS English Language Arts Department Instructional Specialist and Second Story board member, leads the lesson and commands the children's attention. The last exercise of the day, she announces, will be to write two different beginnings for their story. Using the approaches of setting, dialogue, character development and action as a template, the students break into groups with their literary mentors.
By 11 a.m., the kids are restless. Moving from the table to the desk to the floor, scrawling a few words, fidgeting a bit, jotting down a line, they glance up to see if Honeywell is monitoring their progress. Scooting across the cafeteria floor, Honeywell approaches each child with interest, keeping them on task: "Remember what we're doing! Now we're gonna try and tell your story in another way." Neveah and her two buddies are seated at a table, spread apart for sufficient elbow room. Five minutes later, Neveah is immersed in her task, oblivious to the fact that her friends returned to their original table. Breaking her reverie, Honeywell calls Neveah back and the girl gathers her scattered papers, to rejoin her group. Her paper brims with words.
Jamey Peavler draws the students' attention to the front. Wrapping up their activity, she asks the mentors to select a writer from each group who will present his or her story's introduction. Neveah thrusts her hand high, volunteering to be chosen. Nodding, Honeywell indicates that she may read her piece aloud. She grabs her paper and scurries toward Jamey Peavler, who hands her a microphone.
Neveah begins reading her introduction: "I run. I am running. I must hurry home from my sister's house or I will be late for dinner."
Seventy pairs of eyes are fixated on Neveah. Seventy pairs of ears listen attentively. Her words are spellbinding. When she finishes reading her lengthy paragraph, Neveah smiles triumphantly, face aglow.
Honeywell looks to recruit volunteers "who have a passion for writing" and who wish to impart the value of writing to kids. Second Story is reaching a point where additional volunteers are needed. Although they are collaborating with two schools this semester, Honeywell wants to expand the programs. The weekly writing sessions at Carl Wilde illustrate the effectiveness of their personal investment. Though snow cancellations resulted in a condensed program this winter, the children -- many of whom are ESL students -- embrace their ability to write.
For Second Story, an organization run by professional writers, that is the point. They want to inspire these pint-sized wordsmiths, to help them find their own creative voices and to ensure that putting pen to paper isn't a scary task.