There’s No Place Like a Third Space

826 Boston Writers’ Room Manager, Nakia Hill, reflects on what having a safe “third space” means for her students

Seasoned 826 Boston tutor Kaylee sits down with students at the Writers’ Room within the Boston Teachers Union School.

Protests against injustices. The suspension of DACA. Hurricanes that have affected the lives of children and families from Houston to Puerto Rico. These are all stories whose headlines will be etched in the memories of today’s American youth. In 2017, more than ever, students need a space to feel supported in a world where they sometimes feel voiceless and unsafe. To combat that feeling, 826 Boston has created an inclusive space in the Writers’ Room that encourages students to find their voices, tell their stories, and gain communication skills to succeed in school and in life.

According to the City of Boston’s New Urban Mechanics department, third spaces are places that contribute to our collective well-being, and are located between home (our “first spaces”) and work (our “second spaces”). If you live in a major city like Boston, you may have visited a third space without realizing it. Third spaces are our favorite coffee shops with the rapid Wi-Fi connection, parks where we take morning jogs or walk our dogs, hair salons, and barber shops. New Urban Mechanics also identifies third spaces as places where we welcome, connect, and create with others.

Oftentimes, though, our communities are not structured to offer accessible “third spaces” for students and young people to gather and engage creatively with others. Students have unanswered questions, bottled up frustrations, and fears that cause anxiety because they do not have access to spaces that help elevate their voices. That’s what Writers’ Rooms are for.

The Writers’ Room is a space where students can unapologetically be themselves.

“I like coming to the Writers’ Room because no matter what’s going on outside those doors, it’s always so peaceful in here,” said Adora, a senior at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester, where 826 Boston houses its second Writers’ Room.

The Writers’ Room is a stand-alone classroom within a Boston Public School building. It is decorated with an orange wall, comfy furniture, succulent plants, and a robust library filled with books from authors who look and sound like the diverse student population found within public schools in Boston. The Writers’ Room supports teachers and students by providing classroom support for writing assignments throughout the school day. This third space transforms into a bustling creative hub after school with clubs ranging from slam poetry to journalism. And on any given day students are sure to be greeted by a guest author, an editor from The Boston Globe, or a local songwriter. Oh yeah, and lots of pizza can usually be found at our student-led editorial board meetings.

In their own words: Members of the 826 Boston Slam Poetry team at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science share what having a Writer’s Room in their school means to them, as writers.

“Having a room just for writing means a lot to me. I can read books here. I can meet other writers. If I want to come for an essay that I am working on in class, I know that they can help me. It’s just amazing for me when I can be who I am — a writer,” said Agnes, a senior at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.

As 826 Boston Writers’ Room Manager, I understand how freeing a third space can be for our students. The Writers’ Room is a space where students can unapologetically be themselves. I have watched the most reserved students recite their poetry on a stage in front of an audience of strangers. I have witnessed students in the Writers’ Room replicate writing conferences with their peers using strategies that they have adopted from 826 Boston’s writing tutors. “Show don’t tell,” a line that lingers in the Writers’ Room as students are peer editing their friend’s essay, proves to me that these students are growing as writers.

When students first arrive in the Writers’ Room, some feel comfortable enough to playfully plop down on the sofa in our lounge area or ask for help without shame. Why? Because they understand the purpose of their third space. The Writers’ Room is a place where comfort and productivity collide.

As history unfolds, there will always be a need for Writers’ Rooms in our public schools to provide a safe and creative third space where students feel empowered on and off of the page.

826 Boston partners with Boston Public Schools to establish Writers’ Rooms. We are committed to opening and operating at least six Writers’ Rooms by 2021, as part of our strategic plan for growth. Together, these “third spaces” will serve as many as 3,500 BPS students. Learn more about the program here: 826boston.org/programs/writers-room/