How To Open a Writers’ Room in a Local School
As stated elsewhere, you don’t have to have your own standalone space on a busy street. Opening a writers’ room in an existing school is a wonderful way to start, or expand, your services.
The first writers’ room that 826 Valencia opened was at Everett Middle School, about 10 blocks from 826 Valencia’s main site. 826 had been working with Everett for a few years on various projects, and the partnership was strong. Soon enough an idea emerged: What if Everett provided 826 with a dedicated room in the school? That way tutors could be on-campus and serve every student at Everett, and the school would have a special place dedicated to writing.
The school had a room connected to the school’s library. It was being used for storage. So the school and 826 volunteers cleared out the room and renovated it. They added Persian rugs, couches, padded chairs, and even chandeliers. By the time they were done, the room was extremely comfortable, warm and welcoming. And a little weird, too.
With teachers, 826 designed a number of programs to utilize the room and the tutors who regularly staffed it. Every teacher in the school was able to use the room and its volunteers. Some teachers simply wanted to split their class in half occasionally, sending half the students to the writers’ room for writing enrichment (and giving the teacher the chance to work more closely with a smaller group). Another teacher wanted to start a school newspaper, which soon happened (called the Straight-Up News). There are so many ways to use the writers’ rooms and their tutors; teachers will dream up a thousand projects and plans.
The beautiful thing about a writers’ room in a school is that this way, you can work with every student on campus. When you have your own site in another part of town, you’re working with students who have (or their parents have) chosen to be there. They have in some cases made a pronounced effort to get there. But there are always students — so many of them — who won’t or can’t come to your space after school. These students, all students, can be reached if you have a constant presence on campus.
And the second beautiful thing is that with a writers’ room, you don’t have to pay rent. The school gets a room full of dedicated volunteers, and your organization gets a rent-free space. A perfect trade.
Some other info and guidelines:
- Typically, a writers’ room takes one staff member to maintain. This staff member will coordinate the volunteers there, and interface with the teachers and administrators at the school.
- These writers’ rooms ideally look and feel very different from the rest of the school. They should provide a transformative experience. They should make the students feel like real writers who have entered a special place for serious authors.