Spotlight: 826 National

The Future Inventors and Caretakers of Our World

Most kids growing up hear all too often how they are the future, the hope for our nation.  It is easy to see why we all rolled our eyes when we heard this, and why the notion of becoming a mover and shaker can seem exhausting.  But what if you had professional writers within your reach offering guidance?  Tutors who actually cared about your success, and wanted to work with you one-on-one because they too had a passion for writing?  It is refreshing to know that there are writing programs springing up around the country attempting to water the seed that will ultimately shrivel up and die as children lose site of their potential too early in life.

As the New Year emerges with fresh possibilities, one such program refuses to let that excitement for our nation’s children fade away.

826 National defines themselves as, “a nonprofit organization that provides strategic leadership, administration, and other resources to ensure the success of its network of eight writing and tutoring centers.”  The unique nature of the organization is traced back to the man who started it all – award winning writer Dave Eggers.  The Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius author put his vision of the program into action starting in 2002 and the program has only grown since then.

Tutoring: a word that can make any student groan, takes on a different meaning at 826.  The one-on-one after-school tutoring program gives students the attention they sometimes lack in a traditional classroom environment. 826 is an affirmation that student writing means something beyond the constraints of particular assignments.

According to Jennifer Benka, Director of Development and Marketing, “Sparking creativity is part of all of our programs.”  This creativity does not go without sufficient validation for these aspiring writers.

Student Publishing is another key feature of 826 National, an element that proves to be crucial in the confidence development of these young scribes.  Jessica declares, “There is nothing like seeing the pride and sense of accomplishment on a student’s beaming face as he or she sees their byline for the first time.” And for several of these students, this will not be the last.  Julia Mayer, an 826 alumni, recently released her debut novel Eyes in the Mirror (Sourcebooks), a work that began none other than in an 826 National writing workshop in 2005. It seems like the professional influences are paying off.

The seasoned writers who dedicate their time and motivation to these workshops, however, do not necessarily need physical proof for the success of 826.  Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon proudly proclaims, “826 helps young people learn that language can be playful, that work can be joyful, and that they themselves can be the inventors and caretakers of their world. I have seen it with my own eyes. 826 is a good thing in a world of bad things and a good place in a world of hard ones.”

To help students understand and appreciate the value of language and writing as a tool to succeed outside of the classroom is an accomplishment that can never truly be measured.

826 has grown from one center in San Francisco to eight programs nationwide, and the model seems to be working.  From the basic tutoring, to high-energy writing events, workshops supported by professional writers, and even scholarship opportunities, 826 National attempts to fill the void that can be left by the downsizing of art programs in our schools.  There are a lot of writing programs available to students, but 826 is truly the whole package.  Students are not the only recipients of its benefits. Jessica wants everyone to know that as an organization they are “wildly pro-teacher”, encouraging writing projects and offering instruction guidance through their recent book of lesson plans entitled Don’t Forget to Write (Jossey Bass).

It is safe to say that 826 has been a leader in the fight to promote strong writing in students, so they can truly become the “inventors and caretakers of the world.”

Interested in building an organization like 826 in your community? Visit: http://www.826national.org/content/467/national-seminar-sign-up.

And for more information about the chapter application process, click the link: http://www.826national.org/about/16/apply.


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