Avenue A Teen and Community Center in Antrim, NH provides a safe, supportive after school environment for youth from 5th through 12th grade. As part of their High School Creative Writing Club students are encouraged to express themselves, tackle difficult issues, and offer support to one another. The Creative Writing Club also supports performance, bringing art into the community by hosting readings of student work in local bookshops. At one such reading, Steve Whitmore, writing for the Keene Sentinel, was blown away. “This anthology, part of the WRITE OUT! project, is not just a labor of love and support,” he writes, “it’s good. Really good.” (You can purchase a copy of the anthology, titled “I need to See This on Paper” from Toadstool Bookshop in Keene, NH, or Online here.)
Led by local poet and publisher of Monadnock Living Magazine, Cynthia West, the program engages students in a rigorous writing course that mirrors competencies expected in English courses at ConVal High School. Avenue A director, Jaqueline Roland worked with English faculty to develop a curriculum where students would receive academic credit for the work completed during their time enrolled in the Avenue A Creative Writing Club. In 2017, thirteen dedicated teens participated in the club during during 37 weekly meetings for a total of 74 hours of in-club instruction, writing time, and feedback.
As one of the only free out-of-school writing programs in the state the teen writing program is unique. Since they began the project, Roland said,
“We’ve surprised ourselves, and our community- our Teen Center could develop young writers and even publish an anthology? It felt like a dream. For me, the most rewarding part has been watching our local teens have an outlet to publish their work has motivated them to write more, share their writing, and encourage friends to join them. The process of editing, designing, and organizing the anthology- and then promoting it and presenting it a local readings- is giving them real world experience. Their anthology has sparked community conversations about issues youth face in our region.”
One student quoted in the Sentinel said, “I love going to the club every week because of the support it provided me… this will help me for the rest of my life.” This speaks to the success of the program in meeting its own goals of “nurturing confident creative expression while building skills in writing disciplines”. Avenue A reported that “Students learned how their writing can be used to bring hope to teens going through similar experiences, and how their expression can open dialogue with community members, parents, and friends”.
Receiving academic credit for learning completed outside of the traditional school day and the school walls is gaining popularity across the state and across the nation. These Extended Learning Opportunities are meant to supplement educational offerings by the district and allow students to develop community connections as the learn from a broad range of experts.
The Avenue A High School Writing Club was supported in 2017 by a Youth Arts Project grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. These grants fund high-quality arts and cultural programs that develop creativity, competencies in the arts, and foster success for young people beyond the normal school day.
Avenue A Teen Center is a program of The Grapevine, a Family and Community Resource Center in Antrim, NH.
Link to the full Sentinel article, including links to poetry examples