At 826LA, when you're writing, there is no wrong answer and students are encouraged to be as weird as they'd like.
A trip to 826LA was this week's great adventure for the Pathfinder Fellows. Founded in 2005, 826LA is a chapter of the nonprofit organization 826National, which helps students with creative and expository writing skills. There are two 826 locations in Los Angeles, in the Mar Vista community, and in Echo Park. We headed to the Echo Park location, which is creatively named "The Time Travel Mart."
Once there, we met Joel Arquillos, the executive director of 826LA. He and his staff told us that we'd be working with a class of fifth graders coming from Rosemont Avenue Elementary School for a field trip. We learned that the students would be taught a short lesson and then we'd be placed in groups to work with them. Our goal? To help them write a short story.
After the students arrived, Kristen Lorey, the Echo Park programs and operations manager at 826LA, asked the group questions like, "What goes into a good book?" and "What does a book need?" She gave everyone a brief overview of the basics—a book needs characters, setting, and plot—then we quickly jumped into action.
Lorey told the kids that they would be writing a Choose Your Own Adventure-style story. A Choose Your Own Adventure story lets the reader decide what's going to happen next. We then helped the students brainstorm what we would be writing about and what the title of our book would be. (We came up with a pretty creative title, The Demi-Daze.) From there, we each broke up into groups and started writing the book.
One of the unique things about 826LA is that when you're writing, there is no wrong answer and students are encouraged to be as weird as they'd like. Indeed, the story is about a powerful demigod who comes down to the underworld and ends up running into danger. He winds up in jail but he overcomes his obstacles and conquers his enemies. And, even though we wrote the stories in groups, each student received two blank pages and got to write their own ending—whether they wanted to end it with a happily ever after or something bad, the choice was up to them.
826LA also has a book binding machine so when the story was finished, we learned how to bind the pages of the book together. After that, each Pathfinder Fellow got to give a copy to each fifth grader that participated. It was just amazing to see their reactions as they received a book they’d just written. You could see the joy on their faces.
At the end of every Pathfinder Fellowship field trip we leave with a sense of knowledge and the benefit of getting to know different people throughout our community. Pathfinder Fellow Elmer Reyes said that "interacting with the fifth graders on Monday actually reminded me of how much fun it is to be a kid." Reyes also said, "It's very interesting the way kids can teach you a lot about yourself in just one day of fun and creativity." We had such a great time with the kids and connected with them really well, which made the experience twice as exciting and made us want to volunteer at 826LA in the future.
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