Dr. Darolyn “Lyn” Jones, Assistant Teaching Professor, English Department; Education Outreach Director, Indiana Writers Center
Alongside teaching incredible students in my home department at Ball State University, I also serve as the Education Outreach Director for the Indiana Writers Center. There, we have been formally lifting up underserved young voices in Indianapolis for 11 years with our Youth Memoir Project.
In this program, we teach students ages 6-16 that writing comes from their head, heart, and gut. We teach them how to write loud and proud. We encourage them to share and perform their words, reading loud and proud. And finally, we teach them that there are many small steps in building anything: a dream, a piece of writing, a life.
To do that, I recruit and hire University interns from greater Indiana, but most come from our department at Ball State. I train and hire them to help us teach, document, and edit. These students are highly regarded and recommended by their professors.
This summer was a unique challenge. I taught online the past year at the University as did so many of my colleagues. We couldn’t see our students in community settings or in classrooms to know who would be a good fit for this internship. The students we serve in the program were impacted by overwhelming measures—they lived in hot spot areas with elevated pandemic deaths; there was increased violence in the streets, there were protests and peaceful marches for Black Lives Matter; families were being served eviction notices, struggling to find work, medical care, and technology access for their children.
This summer—I told the university interns I hired— more than any other summer our students need this program and they need words the most. And reciprocally, so do you. We all need to make meaning and make sense on paper of what we witnessed and experienced.
Reading my interns’ stories and the students stories illustrated progressive and restorative voices telling you that Black Lives Matter, that liking a girl when you are a girl is okay, that black boy joy and black girl joy is real, that learning online is something we all loved/hated, and that we all suffered loss.
I had exceptional interns this summer. They worked long and hard hours—often outside in blistering heat—or a small stipend. For example, I had Carlin James as a second semester freshman in an ENG 104 Composing Research course. Her consummate professionalism, impressive ability to write, communicate, and deliver made her a standout for the program. Because her major is Public Relations and her minor is in Creative Writing, her internship was to both document our largest community site, Saint Florian, and with another English department major, Kat Doan, create a promotional video. The stakeholders and funders said their video was the best footage and message they have seen produced by students. Carlin was unique in that she not only hung back and captured critical moments, but in a flash, she could also be at a table writing and helping students revise. Students remarked on their end of year evaluations how much they liked Miss Carlin.
Jess Walls was in my ENG 350 Teaching Writing in Secondary Schools course in the Spring of 2021. This is a demanding course in the English education sequence. Without a classroom to work in and after having been learning online since March of 2020, the student fatigue was very real. Yet, Jess was one of those students who showed up, smile on her face, ready to dive in to the day. She was eager to learn how she could apply everything with real students. When I offered the internship, she jumped at the opportunity. (The only education student I had who applied, which is unusual.)
Interns are expected to take 1-2 positions—Jess volunteered to take 3. I made it clear to her that I couldn’t pay her for three. She said, I don’t care. She wanted to learn and practice as much as she could about how to teach writing. We only choose one intern to work with a small group of high schoolers who write and perform Spoken Word with Artist Instructor, Kelsey Johnson (a BSU Theater alumni), and Jess was chosen because of her own theater background and hard work ethic. Jess even volunteered to drive and teach poetry writing in the woods when one of the groups was camping an hour away. When we brought students to Ball State, she even led the tour.
Because of their excellent work and commitment, both Carlin and Jess were selected to apply for the Indiana Excellence in Summer Service Award Scholarship (ESEA). We sometimes have one intern win this coveted scholarship every other summer, but never have we had two interns win—and in the same year, no less! Sadly, that special event could not be held in person because of the Delta variant, but I hope you will tell them congratulations, and that you are as proud of them as I am.
Read on and listen to Carlin and Jess share their experiences from this summer. And if you would like more information about this program, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Sophomore, Public Relations Major/Creative Writing Minor
Through the Indiana Writers Center, I was able to work with members of the youth, strengthen my Public Relations skills, and connect with others on a professional level. After all of the events in this past year, it was so rewarding to see kids pick up a pencil and try their best to make sense of it all. It was even better to see them doing it together since they had been deprived of social interaction at school.
Each and every day, they would come in ready to write, whether it was about their experience through the pandemic, a silly story about their dog, or a list of reasons why they were excited to come to camp that day. Through assisting them with their writing, I was able to learn more about myself in the process.
I learned to embrace change and focus on enjoying the simple things in life, such as writing with a pencil and a piece of paper. Being surrounded by the youth was exactly what I needed this summer because they see the world through an entirely different lens. They have already experienced so much uncertainty and tragedy at their ages, and have handled it with maturity and positivity. I admire their will to keep pushing forward and I feel inspired to do so myself.
As I reflect on their vulnerability and eagerness to share their stories with me, I feel that it is essential for me to do the same. Being vulnerable with others is not an easy thing to do, especially when you have experienced something extremely challenging. Each Saint Florian student I worked with opened up to me whether they shared first, or I shared first. We were able to bond over something we have both been through despite seeing the situation from different perspectives. Through the Indiana Writers Center, not only did I gain professional experiences, but I also gained wisdom from the youth at Saint Florian Center.
Senior, English Education and Chinese Double Major
As a writing intern for the Indiana Writers Center this summer, I visited summer camps in downtown Indianapolis that target underserved youth, largely African Americans and Hispanics. I often wrote examples for prompts that our students would answer in their composition books. They would then share in an “Author’s Chair” what they wrote while their peers asked questions and made connections. At the end of the session, my fellow interns and I would divvy up stories to type up for a book that would later be published.
This was my summer.
At least, on paper.
In reality, I met some of the most driven, hard-working, and success-bound kids I have ever seen in my life. I had not been in the classroom since 2018, which, especially for a preservice teacher, is too long to not work with kids. I entered these students’ spaces feeling insecure and nervous I had lost touch, and I left feeling I could conquer the world just from the inspiration they gave me.
As I typed up stories, poems, songs, and speeches, I grew to know our students and their struggles, fears, and dreams. There is not a single one of them that does not conjure up an image when I hear their name. I had no idea what each day would bring, but I never worried.
Many of our writing prompts asked about the pandemic and loss. Our students’ responses have renewed my sense of community and my vigor to empower our underrepresented youth. Few have been hit as hard by the pandemic as these kids have, but their perseverance and strength during this difficult time has fortified my spirit. There is nothing I could give them that would match what they have given me.
The most I can do is promise to return next summer.
For more information regarding the Indiana Writers Center, visit their website.