Dear Aunt Debbie,
My attention is torn tonight as I'm putting the finishing touches on a workshop I'll be teaching tomorrow at the New York City Writing Project's annual Teacher-to-Teacher conference. The NYCWP (a branch of the National Writing Project) is hands-down the best teacher training program I've ever come in contact with: the most respectful of teachers; the smartest about using writing in all kinds of classrooms, from kindergarten up through college; the most creative and innovative. Of course, in this political climate, it's also under fire: the stopgap spending bill Congress passed and Obama signed last month to keep the government running cut all funding for the NWP, as well as a host of other education programs, and it's unclear whether any of that funding will be restored.
I first became involved with the Writing Project in 2005, when I took part in their Summer Invitational. I was one of 16 NYC teachers who met every day for a month at Lehman College in the Bronx to read and write together, teach each other about the best practices we'd each developed in our classrooms, and learn from each other, other texts, and our facilitators. (During the school year, the NYCWP continues this kind of work by sending Teacher Consultants to work in local schools, helping teachers in all subjects bring writing into their classrooms in organic and effective ways.) It was during that month that I first encountered Paul Fleischman's Seedfolks, a collection of linked short stories, each told in the voice of a different member of the diverse community which comes together to turn a vacant lot into a thriving community garden.
It's hard for me not to link this symbolically to the work that the Writing Project does, both locally and nationally: they are all about cultivating best practices, bringing careful and intelligent care to schools and communities, working within schools and getting to know them and what they need rather than prescribing a curriculum across the board with a one-size-fits-all mentality. When I take part in a Writing Project workshop or event, I know that I am going to be meeting colleagues who pour enormous amounts of energy into teaching kids to write well, and to write with passion. I come away from every Writing Project event with tools I can take into my classroom, but more than that, with a renewed sense of urgency and community.
Those of us who care about our children becoming lifelong readers and writers should unequivocally support continued funding for the National Writing Project. So should our government.