Zac Henning

ASPCP member Khalil Abdellah. Photo Credit Zac Henning

Guest post by Sam Reed

Imagine a place where young men are allowed to connect with their passion for rap music, video games, comics, movies, poetry, sci-fi, and what have you. Imagine a space where boys from diverse communities work alongside emerging rappers, game designers, filmmakers, and established poets and artists. For over 60 boys who participated in the Boys Write Now workshops in Philadelphia this summer, these connected learning spaces became a reality.

In August, I helped organize a series of writing workshops for boys in grades 7-12 in collaboration with the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and their regional affiliate partner the Philadelphia Writing Project. Check out the pre-workshop video below, which was filmed and edited by Tessa Kerpan, a senior film major attending Creative and Performance Arts High School in Philadelphia.

Each workshop commenced with a freestyle rap by members of AstroSteez Pretty Cool Peasants (ASPCP), an alternative hip-hop band, followed by ice-breakers where each participant provided introductions and shared their superhero powers or alter egos. WragsInks, a publishing and literary arts start-up, introduced the participants to the Greek Gods Interactive Card Games. Then they learned about the Scholastic Awards’ Start.Write.Now summer challenge.

To support the co-construction of the workshop space, participants watched Steven Johnson’s RSA animation YouTube video Where Good Ideas Come From. This clip helped set the context for the boys to understand that creativity sometimes happens by making mistakes, and working in vibrant “coffeehouses” and other divergent networks.

Poet and teaching artist “Napalm” Lamont Dixon and Drew Mills from ASPCP, facilitated the poetry and lyrics work group; Richard Okewole and his art team from WragsInks facilitated the Comics, Visual, Design and Video Games work groups; while Kagiso Reed from ASPCP guided the storytelling group that used flip cams, digital pens, and other Amazing Story Generators.

Photo Credit Zac Henning

Photo Credit Zac Henning

ASPCP member Khalil Abdellah, who visually documented each activity at the workshop, said that his own school experience “wasn’t very joyful” because his head was in the clouds. A traditional school setting did not honor his visual, creative, and divergent thinking, but the Boys Write Now workshops allowed for blended and differentiated learning experiences.

Feedback from the participants’ parents also revealed that the workshops were perfect in motivating and engaging boys to write and create art. Lesley Nasir, a parent who observed the final workshop at Temple University’s School of Education, said it was “awesome” and she could tell a lot of effort went into putting on a program that was designed especially for boys like her son. Dionne Childs, another parent whose son attended the first workshop at Overbrook Arts Center, e-mailed me and said her son James hasn’t stopped talking about it since returning home.

Photo Credit Zac Henning

Photo Credit Zac Henning

Co-organizing the Boys Now Write Now workshop series was a perfect summer Connected Learning project for me. I plan to conduct similar programs at my school and co-design other workshops for in-school and out-of-school programs with the Philadelphia Writing Project. We’re encouraging ALL boys to submit their writing to the 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, which is currently open for submissions.

The Scholastic Awards’ Philadelphia affiliate will be hosting an Opening Launch Event for the 2014 Awards on Saturday, October 5th at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, which will feature art and writing workshops for young people. Students can RSVP through the Philadelphia Writing Project.

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