Carrie Gelson of There’s a Book for That, posted photos on Twitter of her students’ book publishing party at the Vancouver Writers’ Exchange, which instantly intrigued me. I researched the organization wanted to learn more about their work. Carrie introduced me to Jennifer MacLeod, co-director of the Vancouver Writers’ Exchange, via e-mail. Jennifer and I met up via FaceTime, which gave me the chance to learn more about the amazing programs the Writers’ Exchange offers to inner city children in Vancouver. (I shared a bit about their work in “10 Ways to Get Students Published in the Real World.”) But the quick write-up I did about the Writers’ Exchange didn’t feel like enough. I e-mailed some questions to Jennifer and her co-director, Sarah Maitland, for the purpose of sharing more about their organization with you. I hope you’re as inspired by the literacy projects as I have been.
First, here’s a video of how the Writers’ Exchange got started:
Stacey: How do you match volunteers with students, teachers, and/or projects?
Jennifer & Sarah: Volunteers sign up for projects or programs that interest them! We need our volunteers to be passionate and excited about the projects so that they can help the kids get passionate and excited about whatever they’re working on.
During our in-school projects we randomly match up volunteers to groups that the teacher creates. All of our volunteers are very good at what they do and are able to get their groups excited about working on the project.
Our after-school volunteers sign up for multiple weeks. As the kids and volunteer mentors get to know each other they choose who they want to work with. If a volunteer is new, I’ll try and introduce them to a kid I think they’ll get along with, but we really like to give the kids and mentors a chance to work with who they want.
Stacey: What kinds of programs do you provide after school and during school vacations?
Jennifer & Sarah: Here is a link to the general description of after-school:
Some specifics from last term:
On Thursdays we ran a program for grade 4-7s called It’s Alive! We made flip-books, sliding stories and pop-up books.
Our Lit Kids program is for grade 1-3s. We do a different fun and wacky project each week, depending on what the kids are in to. For example, the kids made their own guides on how to care for a creature and then made the creatures out of plastecine. They also went on a scavenger hunt around the neighbourhood, searching for their intials in license plates or certain words like “restaurant” or “no parking”.
During school vacations we work with community groups like KidSafe where they bring the kids in their programs to our place for fun projects. We also have days for kids in the neighbourhood to sign up and take part in super cool programs like Skateclub.
Stacey: Tell me a little more about your in-school programming.
Jennifer & Sarah: I honestly can’t do a better job than Carrie describing it. What she told you is bang-on!
Stacey: How do you support the needs of children who have language-based learning disabilities? What about students who are writing well below their grade level?
Jennifer & Sarah: Every kid we work with is different. The fact that we have volunteer mentors to work one-on-one or in small groups with kids makes all the difference. We want to help kids learn to love reading and writing so sometimes we have to tailor a project to what a specific kid is excited about. During reading time we spend a lot of time with the kids searching the bookshelves for a book that they really, really want to read.
Stacey: 826 National is a U.S.A.-based organization that’s similar to the Writers’ Exchange. Do you know of any others?
Stacey: If a teacher doesn’t live near an organization like the Writers’ Exchange (or 826 National), how can they carry out projects like the ones you do?
Jennifer & Sarah: They can ask the kids what they want to do! Kids have great ideas that can be used to make the curriculum a bit more fun to work on. I would also suggest getting in a group of volunteers to work with the kids on a project. It’s always nice to have new faces in the classroom to provide more support for the kids.
Teachers can always look on our or other projects websites for inspiration. We’re more than happy to share ideas!
Stacey: What are some of your secrets to engaging students as writers?
Jennifer & Sarah: If a kid is passionate or excited about something they are more likely to participate. We only run programs that the kids and the programmers are excited about.
Stacey: What’s next for the Writers’ Exchange?
Jennifer & Sarah: We want to work with even more kids!
Do you invite volunteers into your classroom? Does your community have anything like the Writers’ Exchange? Please share more about interesting writing programs or partnerships in which you or your school is involved.