Back to the Basics: Why Getting Teens Writing is Important

The Reading Public Library, Teen Loft located in Reading, PA provided three three-hour writing workshops this summer facilitated by professionals funded by the YALSA/Dollar General Summer Learning Grant.

  • Ekphrastic Poetry: Motivos, a bilingual print magazine run by founder/publisher and former ALA National presenter Jenee Chizick-Aguero, provided a workshop on ekphrastic poetry. Teens used the elements around them and drew inspiration from things that were familiar to them such as music, movies, and artwork to find their creative voice. Jenee also encouraged them to submit their writing to her magazine for publication. She also shared resources her magazine provided such as scholarship information. The RPL also subscribes to her magazine so that they are available at all times.

  • Short Story Writing: Young Adult author of Immaculate and Transcendent Katelyn Detweiler began with a discussion about how she got into writing, the challenges she faces and working for a publishing company in New York which gave teens insight into how a book is created from start to finish. Teens were then given prompts to help get them started.
  • Comic Book Panels: Author and artist Jean Esther taught teens how to make their own comic book and the challenges he faced when creating his own. He also spoke about his journey as an artist. The workshop started off with basic drawing tips and tricks they could use to bring their drawings to the next level. After they created their main characters, they were ready to work on their storylines and share their work.

Each professional focused on a different aspect of writing in a fun and engaging way. They praised the teens for their efforts making them feel like their voice mattered and that they should not be intimidated.

Why is writing so important? Writing is the primary basis for which work, learning, and intellect are judged by those in the workplace, school, and in the community. No matter the economic status of our teens, it is important that they have access to as many opportunities as possible to better themselves. As an educational institution, which we like to refer to as “the people’s university”, it is our job to provide quality programs by alleviating one of the biggest hurdles in our community, being able to afford it. The Reading School District website states, “We see the impact of poverty and inner-city life in our classrooms every day, yet in spite of that, we have the most dedicated, talented, and intelligent and ambitious students you’ll find anywhere in the world. #RSDproud.”

When I was thinking about applying for the YALSA/Dollar General Summer Learning Grant, I was bouncing ideas off with one of my colleagues and she suggested writing classes. I added it to my list but, I honestly did not see this as a top priority. Because I was born in America and grew up only speaking English. Because I was always a good writer. I did not take into account that my teens needed this as much as I started to realize while writing the grant. I thought oh this would just be a great program where the teens will have fun, learn some skills and so on.

However, it became much bigger than that. Of course I knew that 25% of the youth and teens in our district are English Language Learners but that did not automatically resonate with me. I am ashamed of that because I always see myself as someone who has the teens’ best interest at heart.

We live in a society that puts so much emphasis on technology and in doing so we as libraries have stepped up and are ever evolving, as we should be, to equip our patrons with the tools to gain these necessary skills. We have created Maker Spaces that our communities can use to 3D print, create social media videos and offer classes on coding. I am not putting down these type of offerings down in anyway. I too offer these things to the teens. However, we also need to remember that there are those that struggle with the basics. I needed to be reminded of that as well.

We created a survey for our teens to get their thoughts on the workshops. To summarize some of their accounts, one teen wrote that they appreciated the tips because they would be able to use them later on. Another wrote that the workshops were beneficial because they would be able use these skills in their academic career. Another teen wrote that programs like these help them figure out what they like to do and another wrote that they found out that they realized that they were good at something they never knew. Those experiences are what matter most because they show that teens are benefiting from our programs and we are on the right path to give them what they need and want. One of five of our PA Forward initiative is Basic Literacy that states, “We envision a Pennsylvania with one of the highest literacy rates in the country, a trained and skilled workforce, and a growing economy, tax base, and population.”

It is great to keep up with trends but remember that there are still teens in your community that have basic needs. Be aware, and be open to their suggestions. What you think is good for them and what they need should correlate.

Ashly R. Roman is the Teen Loft Supervisor at the Reading Public Library, Main Branch in Reading, PA.

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