featured writer

Teacher Feature: Jennifer Shields

As summer camps have begun, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The seventh is Jennifer Shields, who co-teaches Girls Write Now.

1. What is your favorite underappreciated novel? How can writing help benefit your well being?

Your question reminded me of a book that speaks to girls and their quest for identity during the thorny adolescent years, written by the wild and willowy haired Margaret Atwood, called Cat’s Eye. Some of you may be familiar with her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which has become a television series. Atwood is masterful in her characterization of young adolescent girls struggling with friendship hierarchy–who is in, who is out. The girls are at times ruthless to the point of leaving one girl for dead, almost freezing to death in the bottom of an ice-laden ravine. The novel weaves past and present narratives of the protagonist, Elaine Risley, exploring the lasting impact tumultuous friendships can have on the formation of the adult self.

2. Why is it important to teach girls to find their voices through writing?

It is important because it enables them to reflect in a deeper and more grounded way. Verbal expression is not always accessible to a young person in the moment; it takes years of practice. But with writing, we can teach them to revisit situations that may have been painful or challenging or joyous and write about them through different lenses–taking on the perspective of the other, writing about a situation and changing the outcome, looking back 10 years from now. But the importance, the true growth from the writing, is in the sharing. Speaking one’s true voice is an exercise young girls can carry with them throughout life.

3. How can writing benefit your well being?

Writing can be the great equalizer, especially when the written word is shared and discussed in a safe, supportive environment–away from instagram, away from snapchat, away from the pings and concomitant trigger of anxious rush. Girls Write Now is like a sleepover party for the real self. The real self gets to hang out, stay up late, and share stories of fear and wonder, hopes and dreams, darkness and light, uncensored and maybe even told for the first time. But that story is so like yours, and yours, and yours … and mine.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Jennifer Shields is a Writing Instructor & Counselor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Sami Strauss

As summer camps are in session, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The sixth is Sami Strauss, who teaches Animal Tales.

1. What do you most love about writing?

What I love about writing is that it consistently leaves me in awe. I’m in awe of my students at what they accomplish, no matter the age, no matter the student. I am honestly in awe of myself when I actually finish a writing task that felt so enormous I thought I would never complete it. Mostly, I am in awe of my favorite authors of novels because their work is so incredible to me it feels almost magical that it can be done!

2. What’s different about teaching at Project Write Now?

Teaching at Project Write Now is always surprising. I am put in a room with a mix of students who come from different schools, different towns, or even different grades within the same school. Everyone starts off feeling a little shy or uncomfortable, but by the end of the camp they are fast friends, congratulating each other on triumphs, empathizing with struggles, and sharing so much of who they are. That is the beauty of Project Write Now and writing–it can bring anyone together!

3. What is your favorite animal, and why?

My favorite animal is a penguin, and there is an interesting story why. When I was in 1st grade, I “chose” a giraffe as my favorite animal because everyone had one, and I needed to get on board. My family and I went to the Bronx Zoo one weekend, and since giraffes were apparently my jam, I needed to get a figurine from the gift shop. Much to my dismay, the gift shop was sold out of giraffes. They did, however, have a cute little penguin. Not wanting to go home empty handed, I decided on the penguin as my souvenir. In my seven-year-old mind, this meant that penguins had to be my new favorite animal, and they were from that day forward. (I now have a collection of over 50 penguins!)

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Sami Strauss is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Colleen Doogan

As summer camps approach, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The fifth is Colleen Doogan, who teaches All You Can Write and Spinning Stories.

1. What’s your favorite writing exercise?

I love making lists—lists of anything. Lists of things I like, things I love, things that drive me crazy mad, moments in my day, things I am grateful for, sayings, wacky words, highlights from a vacation, best times and worst times as a parent, childhood memories—you name it, I make a list out of it. I make lists because almost always something on my list jumps out at me and makes me write more. When I spend time writing off of one bullet point on a list, I am amazed to see what comes out.

2. What are you most looking forward to about this year’s summer camps?

I am looking forward to helping kids find the joy in writing! I want to make writing fun every minute we are together. There will be choice of pens and markers, types of paper, where to sit (even on the floor), what to write about, who to talk to about your writing, how to make it better, and much more. Life is more fun when we have choices and so is writing! I can’t wait to see what kids can produce when they are given choice in their writing life.

3. What period of your life do you find you write most about? (Childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc.)

I definitely write about the present most because it’s so hard. Being a parent is the hardest job I have ever had and I find that writing about the ups and downs helps me navigate the sometimes very rough waters just a bit better. I wish I wrote more about my past. I have been through a lot of loss over the past few years, and I desperately want to write about it. I guess raising three small kids while losing parents at the same time has kept me pretty busy and unable to quite get the words down on paper. Someday I will, and when I do it’s going to feel amazing. For now I will continue to write about this crazy roller coaster ride I am on as a mom and hopefully look back and laugh at it all someday.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Colleen Doogan is the Education Director & Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Christa Teter

As summer camps approach, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The fourth is Christa Teter, who teaches Your Voice Matters.

1. What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan is underappreciated by American students, I think, because it’s hard for them to relate. But if they can get past the fact that it’s an obscure concept to them, then they can see that Koly isn’t really much different than them in the way she feels–her maturity, fears, and hopes.

2. Do you usually write about personal situations or imaginary?

There is value in both, but I typically write about personal situations as they are genuine, honest, and therapeutic for me.

3. If you could meet any author who would it be?

Probably Jodi Picoult. Small Great Things is my favorite Picoult book as it is a reflection of our society and how the family we’re born into deeply affects our outlooks. I appreciate the research Picoult must do to write her stories, plus she seems to have a sense of cultural responsibility. I think her messages are about the plurality of our society and how we need to be more compassionate and understanding of each other. If we do that, then perhaps one day we will have peace.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Christa Teter is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Leah Mermelstein

 

As summer camps approach, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The third is Leah Mermelstein, who teaches Imagination Blast Off & Storybook Studio.

1. What are you most excited about going forward with teaching at Project Write Now?

I’m so excited to show kids how much fun writing can be. Writing is so much more than putting pencil to paper. Whenever I teach writing to kids, ultimately they are the decision makers. They get to choose their topics, genres, and audiences. They get to decide what types of paper to use and how to illustrate their words so their ideas come to life. I’m there to facilitate this journey and to support them in any way I can. My greatest hope is that they will leave my summer camp filled with new writing projects they want to continue working on.

2. What do you mostly like to write about?

I write mostly about teaching and my daughter. I blog at www.leahmermelstein.com. In my most recent blog, I talk about what I learned while watching my daughter graduate from PK 4 and participate in her ‘Gymnastics Olympics.’ I am also writing a book about the importance of writerly conversations. I can’t wait to put what I am learning while writing this book into action. During our week of camp, we will have lots of writerly conversations during which campers will be able to clarify ideas and hear multiple perspectives.

3. What book world would you want to live in?

I think I would choose to live in the book, “Charlotte’s Web.” I love to imagine a world where kindness and empathy are at the forefront. I love the bittersweet ending when Wilbur is caring for Charlotte’s baby spiders after she has passed on. It was Wilbur’s privilege and responsibility to do this as he understood the impact that Charlotte had on his own life. I parent and teach with these ideas in mind and hope that in some small way I am creating this kind of reality across the world.
 
Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.
 
Leah Mermelstein is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Joy Newcomb

 

As summer camps approach, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The second is Joy Newcomb, who teaches Superhero Mash-Up.

1. Why do you teach?

I think it was what I was born to do. By the time I was eight years old, I knew I wanted to be the one in the front of the classroom. I have always loved working with kids, and I believe I have a talent for motivating them and helping them find their inspiration. There is no greater joy in my life than seeing the pride a student feels in their accomplishments.

2. What drew you to choose superhero stories as the subject for your writing camp?

I chose superhero stories for two reasons. First, superheroes and their villainous counterparts have existed as long as stories have, and even before writing. Second, I think people, kids in particular, are naturally drawn to these types of stories. The only limits to superhero tales are within the writer’s imagination, and I love that this camp gives students the opportunity to stretch those limits!

3. What book world would you want to live in?

I am a huge fan of Harry Potter, so without a doubt I would live in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world of Harry Potter. I can think of no more fantastic existence than to be a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and spend my leisurely weekends watching quidditch matches and poking around in the shops of Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley.

 

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

 
Joy Newcomb is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

TEACHER FEATURE: Lisa Hartsgrove

As summer camps approach, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The first is Lisa Hartsgrove, who runs the Teen Internship Programs and also teaches Ink It Up, Girls Write Now, Poetry Undercover, and Short Shorts.

1. What does writing mean to you?

Some people run. Some people dance. Some people paint, sing, swim. Writing to me is like that. Writing is my running, my dancing. It’s my practice and my passion. Writing, for me, is an act of discovery, an adventure, how I have come to know myself and the world around me, and how I continue to do so.

2. What’s one of your favorite memories from summer camps at PWN?

Oh, what a hard question! I have so many great memories! One that jumps to my mind right away is the collaborative aspect of Ink It Up. From working together each year to create a sketchbook that gets housed in The Brooklyn Art Library to painting and decorating our own studio bookshelf, I love seeing how art and writing can bring my students together to forge meaningful friendships and create awesome new ways to showcase their many talents.

3. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

Anyone who knows me knows that my answer is always going to be some kind of cat. For this question, I’m going to say my animal is a lion, because she is fierce when she needs to be, but also soft. Because she is wild, but also part of a pack. And that is how I feel as a writer.
 

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

 
Lisa Hartsgrove is the Program Coordinator & Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.