The Writers in the Schools program has a lot to celebrate. Highlights from the past month include a vibrant field trip to the PEN World Voices Festival this spring, a student literary publication in its second successful year, and students discussing advocacy and social justice on the weekends.

In May, we were delighted to host students from the Brooklyn Collaborative High School at PEN World Voices Festival events taking place in NYU’s “Literary Mews.” Students danced to acclaimed Zimbabwean musician Tiga Jean Baptiste, listened to a diverse panel of intellectuals discussing the Diaspora, and soaked up the sunshine.

Josephine, a student at Brooklyn Collaborative said: “I liked that there were Swedish and German lessons. Books were being sold. They welcomed us with warm, spread-out arms.” Her classmate Charlotte added: “I am glad I was able to go on this trip because now I have a broader idea of colleges and everything they offer.”

We have also heard from volunteers across New York City who wrote in with success stories, as well as updates on how they concluded the program at their schools. 

PEN Member Alice Gordon, who makes a lengthy commute to Flushing to volunteer, says, “When I arrived at Veritas Academy, the students had just begun to read The Glass Castle, a memoir by Jeannette Walls.” Inspired by the book, Alice and her teacher worked with the students on memoir assignments.

Alice wrote: “A number of these kids had much too challenging experiences to write about; to a certain extent, I think, the Walls book gave them faith in their own abilities to cope. Poignantly, they didn’t want their relationship with Walls to end. Now, that is literary power and influence.”

At Marta Valle High School in the East Village, PEN Member Berta Bustamante works with students on Saturdays, on a “U.S. history/social justice curriculum, which I’m using as a framework to encourage writing and future civic engagement.” The students engage with and discuss various texts and media, including dispatches from PEN’s Advocacy Blog.

Berta writes: “These kids are natural writers, and I want them to understand that their experiences, voices and work all have the power to make a huge impact in repairing and restoring the world to come, as long as they gain the confidence to write about it!”

In Brooklyn, Daniel Bergner, William Hogeland, and Wesley Morris work with a small group of student writers after school at MESA, a unique charter school in Bushwick. “In June, they’ll publish their second annual literary magazine, and the kids will stand in front of a crowd of 300 to read their work.”

Finally, we heard from Peter Gelfan, who has worked as an after-school tutor at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics over the past year. Peter reported that he worked with a student for whom English was not his first language, in order to prepare an essay as part of an application for a summer internship with the District Attorney’s office. The student was accepted for the internship, the first step on his way to becoming a prosecutor.

As always, our thanks and admiration go out to the many PEN Members who have volunteered their time, passion, and energy to this program. Have a great summer, and we’ll see you next year!