Ball State University junior education major Emily Mack describes her phenomenal summer internship through the Indiana Writers Center where she worked with children to help them sharpen their writing skills.

This summer I had the opportunity to intern for the Indiana Writers Center, helping to teach creative writing to 3 different groups:  a pack of brutally honest, rowdy, affectionate 1st-3rd graders and two classes of funny, guarded, intelligent, bilingual high school students. In a mere seven weeks, almost 300 student writers ages 5-18 from across Indiana produced pages upon pages of funny, thought-provoking, gut-wrenching poems and mini-memoirs.Bryson and Emily

I believe everyone has an innate desire to be known and to connect with others. Storytelling has always been about sharing a connection. In meeting these kids where they are–embracing them as the wiggly, imaginative, funny, vulnerable, intelligent kids they are–we enable them to share their stories and be known by all who will read them.  The best parts of this experience were getting out of my own bubble, being able to put what I’m learning about diversity and teaching into action, and being trusted with these stories.

One day Bryson, a 7-year-old at Saint Florian, walked into class, pointed at me, and said, “I want to write with you today!”  I promised I would and went around the classroom to greet other students and pass out sheets of paper.  He kept staring at me and patting the empty chair beside him until I sat by him.  

The older kids were spending the day writing about #blacklivesmatter. For the youngest group, we’d modified it to ask them about a time that someone made them feel good or bad about who they are.  I asked Bryson which kind of experience he wanted to write about.  He saiBryson Drawingd, “It made me feel good when the lady gave me a flower to put on my grandmother’s grave. I don’t remember who she was.”  I was taken aback and asked him if I could write that down. He went on to describe in great detail, with only a few prompting/clarification questions to guide him, that years before he was born, his maternal grandmother was mugged and shot. The lady who gave him the flower was his mom’s best friend, Lindsey, who was tall and nice.  He was sad that it happened, but he’s happy now because he can still feel his grandmother in his heart. I was completely floored that a second grader was able to tell a story about violence and racism with such honesty, innocence, and hope.  

If I were to boil this experience down to one major takeaway, it would be this: in order to be a good teacher, I have to first be willing to learn from my students. I learned about my high school students’ lives as they exchanged Pokemon Go tips, soccer scores and stories of their best and worst games, and satirical jokes and heart-wrenching stories about their experience as Latino immigrants. The younger ones shared stories of everything from aliens, unicorns, and their favorite toys to bullying, divorce, and transitioning stepfamilies. As Barb, director of the Indiana Writers Center and one of the leaders of this program always says, “It is a privilege to be trusted with someone’s story.” I’d consider this internship not just for people who want to teach, but for people who are willing to learn from some incredible young people.

The 2016 “Building a Rainbow” project book can be found here.