It has been said that the hardest part of writing is finding a story to tell. But for the English students at our on-site school, stories of depth and complexity flow easily. In their young lives, our youth have experienced much more pain and loss than most of their peers. Through essays, poetry and short stories, they reveal their personal stories through their assignments in a safe and supportive environment. It is a process many of our youth find profoundly healing.
In our school, our English teacher Eileen teaches all high school English credits from grade 9 to 12. The students, who often struggled with school in the past, are now choosing to be there to earn credits and achieve their long-term goals. Some students arrive with only basic literacy while others have their sights on university. Eileen thoughtfully customizes individual lessons to each student.
Eileen begins with the creative writing unit first. As she marks their work, she is assessing their abilities to plan for their needs. But she is also gaining insight into who they are and the difficulties they have faced. “I love the students. I love their desire to learn, to create and to express themselves,” shares Eileen. “Their stories are so powerful and their histories are so difficult and diverse.”
With every program at Covenant House, our staff create a rapport with our youth that can involve coaching, teaching interpersonal skills and offering a listening ear. The teachers in our school connect with their students in ways that are not possible in a more typical school. “I always give them feedback on what they say. I can’t just comment on their grammar,” explains Eileen. “They talk to me through their writing. These kids often come from homes where nobody was interested in what they have to say. So I have to really engage with their work and respond on paper as a human being.”
Tasnim came to school just over a month ago. She was nervous and unsure. She had had a lot of difficult school experiences in the past, including bullying from peers and severe anxiety because of her troubled home life. She embraced the quiet, calm environment. She told Eileen that she realized, “she needed to write.” She says her writing is helping her to focus on all the things she wants to accomplish. In the few weeks she has been with us, she has been prolific. She has produced numerous evocative poems, spoken word pieces and short stories. Tasnim has become a lively and engaged young woman who grins with well-deserved pride when her writing is mentioned. When asked about the volume of work she has produced, she shrugs and says, “I’m just getting it all out!”
Tasnim has given us permission to share her moving and personal spoken word video she recently created. Please watch Memory: