Mighty Writers is an organization with a passion for literacy in a large city—Philadelphia—where only 30 percent of eighth graders are reading and writing at grade level. The Mighty Writers mission is “to teach kids to think clearly and write with clarity so they can achieve success.” At Kars4Kids, we think this makes eminent and logical sense. We also think it’s an unusually creative way to incentivize kids toward academic and future professional success.
So we gave them a small grant.
It’s our way of sharing in this wonderful work by supporting it, if even in a modest way.
We spoke with Program Director of Mighty Writers North, Amy Banegas, to learn more about this novel work (pun intended):
Kars4Kids: Why have you decided to make all your programs free of charge?
Amy Banegas: Our schools in Philly have unfortunately lost funds for many of their sports and after school programs. Rec centers have closed or are charging for kids to have a safe space outside of the streets. We needed this. We Need this! English classes (language arts), are most of the times providing the mechanics of writing; however, they leave out the most important piece – FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION! Mighty Writers is a safe space for all youth to be themselves and share their worlds, their views through writing.
Kars4Kids: Some of your writing programs are bilingual. What is the benefit of learning to write in Spanish in a pervasively English-language culture?
Amy Banegas: I grew up speaking Spanish and as an educator of 15 years in North Philly have used it pretty much every day. The advantages are: better job positions, higher salaries, communication, and worldly communication.
Kars4Kids: Mighty Writers West has a cursive writing workshop. Why is cursive still an important skill for kids raised in a hi-tech world where the keyboard is king.
Amy Banegas: I grew up learning to write cursive. It was part of my education and unfortunately has disappeared from our schools. I believe hand writing whether in cursive or print is a tool that all youth should really embrace and learn in our world today. An example I use when kids ask is sharing how personal, unique and special it is to have someone write you a letter and then sign it with their own signature. There is something so special about that. Receiving a text or email does not have any personality.
Kars4Kids: Has it been difficult to find enough writers to volunteer with Mighty Writers? What does a writer stand to gain from volunteering with the children you serve?
Amy Banegas: Fortunately, many of our volunteers are writers, students of literature, or have a gift and passion for writing and reading. Volunteers who are writers get to work hands on editing work, exploring ideas with youth, create writing lessons/activities, create and share writing tools with youth and of course, they get to read some amazing pieces by our youth!
Kars4Kids: Doesn’t taking part in your programs feel like just more homework to at least some of the children?
Amy Banegas: Not really! It is all on how we deliver our programs and how we share the success of past students with the families and youth. Our environment is not the typical classroom, our energy is lively and we are always keeping students engaged with trips, hands on activities and more! This is a space where they have the freedom to express themselves through writing and language with youth and adults from all parts of the city.
Kars4Kids: How do you measure the success of your programs?
Amy Banegas: We have monthly writing projects we work on. These projects are taken step by step using the writing process. We have students go through a couple of drafts and activities to assist in their pieces. Once students have completed pieces, we then have volunteers assist in editing. These writing pieces are then input into our ‘grading system’ that gives us a score/level for the students’ work.
Kars4Kids: Why writing, as opposed to drawing, sports, or STEM?
Amy Banegas: Writing is an essential tool to learn and practice. It is utilized in all subjects and yes, even in sports! I always tell my youth that writing and reading is something they will use no matter what path or journey they take, no matter their passion- they will use it!
Kars4Kids: What’s next for Mighty Writers?
Amy Banegas: Mighty Writers continues to grow in the city and now in NJ! We continue providing free programs and look to have more students in Philly and Jersey join us!