Gillian Kick '22 collaborated with English professor Heather Lindenman and Alamance-Burlington Schools' Early College program in a semester-long creative writing project. Seventeen students' works will be published this summer.
The meaning of community, environmentalism, racial injustice and police brutality, the danger of lies, the struggle for equality are all topics simmering in our collective political consciousness. On Friday, they were all expressed through the prism of youth as part of an Elon undergraduate’s project to amplify high schoolers’ voices in the community.
This spring, Gillian Kick ’22 worked with 17 high school juniors in Alamance-Burlington Schools’ Early College program to cultivate their writing skills around social issues. Nine of those students read essays, poems and short stories during an event Friday at Alamance Community College, which hosts the early college program. All 17 students’ pieces will be published in a book, “The World and Everything in It,” this summer through Kick’s Leadership Prize funding.
“The goal of this project was for powerful student voices to be heard and shared in this community,” Kick said. “By empowering them to write, and then unpacking their writing, I hope to discern what high schoolers have to say about social justice issues and use their ideas as a way to move forward together.”
Kick — an Elon College Fellow and English literature and creative writing double-major — worked with her mentor, Assistant Professor of English Heather Lindenman, and Early College English teacher Courtney Kobos ’19 to create a writing curriculum based on writing around social justice issues. The project, “Rewriting Injustice in Alamance County: Fostering youth agency and community engagement through social justice writing,” earned her the Leadership Prize this winter. She based the concept on her own transformative high school experience, when a teacher gave her freedom to explore local issues through writing.
Early College students said the semester helped them focus their ideas and process the dramatic events of the last few years in meaningful ways.
“I’ve never really had a class like this,” said Yesenia Santiago, who read her piece, “The World I Wish to See,” about hopefulness for peace and equality. “It was almost like therapy. I grew as a writer and as a person.”
Shiv Patel said the project gave him the opportunity to think deeply about important issues. His short story, “Thirteen Miles from the Truth,” played on themes of mass hysteria and the corruptive power of lies.
“It was an eye-opening experience, and it gave us the freedom to do creative work and write about things we’re passionate about,” Patel said.
Kobos — a Leadership Prize winner in 2018 for work around ESL education and a Fulbright award winner — appreciated the opportunity to partner with Kick. Working together, Kobos and Kick frequently tied writing to literature and themes explored in the course.
“The way Gillian and Dr. Lindenman arranged the curriculum allowed the students’ creativity to flow naturally. Each week, they were making writing progress, but the lessons were really focused on their needs and their passions,” Kobos said. “I think the project has been successful in academic terms, in their writing, and also in their personal growth.”
Lindenman, coordinator of Elon’s first-year writing program, has expertise in areas of community writing and service-learning in composition.
“Your words were some of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in the last year,” Lindenman told the students Friday. Afterward, she remarked that the semester outcomes were among the best she’s ever experienced in community writing projects.
But beyond their texts, their semester together was as much about inspiring their confidence in sharing their views among peers and with the public. Some of the pieces were deeply personal. In conversations with Kick, some students shared that the peer revision process showed them points of view on social issues and different ways to view current events.
Kick and Lindenman will collaborate this summer to publish the volume of their works. Kick will continue unpacking the experience and researching community writing as she completes her undergraduate research project her senior year. This fall, Kick, Lindenman and Kobos will present their collaboration at the Conference on Community Writing.