Blog: Amanda Uhle

Amanda Uhle is Executive Director of 826michigan, a nonprofit center in Ann Arbor dedicated to supporting local young people with their writing skills - one of only seven centers in the U.S.. She'll be writing about 826, its impact on the community and even post samples of the kids' work.

Post No. 2: Tall Tales & True Stories

The ability to write is invaluable to me. It may be because I love to read, or because I had a great AP English teacher in high school, or because I write a lot of grants and news releases. I think it’s also because, as a professional person, I see the sharp contrast between the opportunities available to adults comfortable and adept at writing and those who are not.

As Bob Guenzel’s blog from a few weeks ago pointed out, Washtenaw County’s illiteracy rate is 12%, which translates to about 27,000 people. In April the New York Times reported that only "about a third of the nation’s eighth-grade students, and roughly a quarter of its high school seniors, are proficient writers." It seems obvious, but to alleviate illiteracy, we must address the issue with young people—to help them improve not only their ability to write, but their attitudes toward writing.

Starting last September, 826michigan staff and volunteers worked together to do exactly that with the students at Childs Elementary School in Ypsilanti. Volunteers made regular visits to the school to lead writing workshops, both afterschool and during class time. First and second grade classrooms traveled to 826michigan’s downtown Ann Arbor site for field trips.

The 826 field trip model has been known to inspire even the most reluctant young writer. Last week, NPR’s All Things Considered profiled the field trips at 826 NYC.

On ten different Friday mornings this year, a school bus full of kids from Childs arrived at the writing lab on Liberty Street, full of questions and hesitation. They were usually pretty quiet and reserved at first. By noon, when the bus returned to pick them up, we needed a whole team of teachers, volunteers and chaperones to keep order because the kids were so excited---about writing.

That’s the exact outcome that we hope to achieve every time we help a student with their writing.  Ultimately, we hope that a student’s 826michigan experience helps them express ideas creatively, confidently, effectively and each in his or her own unique voice.

When we see students who begin to define themselves as writers, we know we have succeeded.

826michigan opened in 2005 with the knowledge that our program model had already proven successful. Backed by 826 Valencia’s then three years of program development, implementation and evaluation, we were able to start offering high-quality writing programs for students right away.

Our model is to provide project-based learning opportunities to students so that they engage in the process of creating a tangible product. By doing so, we involve them in real-life problem-solving activities and give students ownership over the learning process.  At 826michigan, publishing student work is a priority. Our students learn what the publishing process entails by working closely with their peers and professionals in the field to create a printed product they and others can enjoy for years to come.

Tall Tales & True Stories is just such a project.  It includes students’ personal narrative writing (true stories) and exaggerated yarns (tall tales), all organized into a professionally designed, illustrated and printed book. It’s not just a tangible and beautiful keepsake. It’s a step toward students feeling a sense that their ideas are valuable and that writing is part of a skill set within their comfort zone. At 826michigan, we believe that the ability to write is essential and invaluable for every young person.

Check out the blog tomorrow for an excerpt from the book, written by students from Childs Elementary.