Rise Up & Transform Lives
Thoughts on the Camper Experience at Rise Up & Write 2019
For two weeks this summer, I once again had the pleasure of facilitating a session of Rise Up & Write: Youth Voices for the Environment, the Greater Madison Writing Project’s activist writing camp for middle and high school students. I wrote last year about how my experience with Rise Up & Write echoed and informed my teaching practice. This year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how our campers grew and changed over two short weeks at the UW Arboretum. As I reflected in my journal on the final day of camp, “It’s amazing to watch a group of strangers transform over a week into co-conspirators and activists. Their ideas grow from kernels to campaigns. Their voices go from whispers to shouts.”
My mom, retired and always supportive of my work, attended our end of camp celebration, Rise Up & Celebrate. In an email, she wrote: “When I asked the students for their big takeaways from the camp, several of them said that she’d learned that she has a voice, and that sense of power was transferring to other aspects of her life.” If that’s not a sentence that brings tears to your eyes, kindly check that your emotion chip is installed properly.
In the spirit of promoting student voice, rather than droning on about my own feelings, I will let some of the campers’ own words from an end-of-camp feedback survey speak for themselves:
“I really liked the supportive community and unique way of going about writing. I liked learning about how to plan for a piece and get my work out there.”
“I thought that I was decent and I could write a coherent essay. Now, I think that my voice matters and people want a teen’s perspective. I feel like a better writer and a more aware activist. I think that I am ready to start a blog, write a book, etc.
“I know that my writing does matter and it needs to be hear[d] by many people.”
“I am ready to come into my own as a high school student, whether in a writing-related program or otherwise. I feel more confident as a person which is something I needed. Rise Up and Write came at the perfect time in my life when I needed it most, and I am better for it. Thank you so much for giving me a welcoming place to grow and come into my own.”
“I was really happy with myself that my mom did not help me at all. During the school year when I have writing pieces I usually have her edit my writing.”
“I realized how easy it is to get my voice out there.”
In short, giving these young people an environment in which they felt free to explore new writing techniques and purposes, be their authentic selves, and give and receive meaningful feedback, all without fear of being judged, liberated our campers to realize their potential and experience the growth and development that we should all hope to experience in our lives. It is, frankly, a tragedy that students don’t already feel this way every day in their classrooms. Let’s all work to change that.
Organizations like the Human Restoration Project, Student Voice, Teachers Going Gradeless, and many others are providing platforms to bring forward student voices on issues related to education and beyond. Collectively, these efforts give me tremendous hope for the future of Wisconsin, America, and our world. That’s a hell of a return on the investment of two summer weeks, I’d say.
Here are some examples of student work from this year’s Youth Voices for the Environment:
- @cleanmadisonlakes on Instagram
- @eat4environment19 on Instagram
- Suzannah Kirchner: If you want to protect the planet, change the way you eat
- Raina Bogost: Schools need more funding for mental health support
- Mina Linsenmayer: Shop sustainably to keep the planet green