826 Valencia

In spring 2010 Aimee Phan, CCA Writing and Literature chair, led ENGAGE at CCA: 826 Valencia Book Project. In this course, students collaborated with 826 Valencia to mentor high school students in essay writing, in preparation for a book release.

Community Partner Organization: 826 Valencia, San Francisco: www.826valencia.org

CCA Faculty Leader: Aimee Phan, Writing and Literature

Outside Expert: Judith Tannenbaum, teaching artist and writer

Goal: Mentor John O'Connell High School students through the process of producing an anthology of personal essays

Dave Eggers is one of San Francisco's precious few hometown celebrities, famous for his books and his literary journal McSweeney's. And then there's his awesome pirate store at 826 Valencia, where just behind the peg legs, eye patches, and bottles of Scurvy-Be-Gone is a space devoted to helping students ages 6 to 18 develop their writing skills.

There are tutoring sessions and workshops going on all the time at 826 Valencia, and then each year there is a book project, centered on a different theme. This year it was the American Dream, and the writers were a group of juniors from John O'Connell High School. The 21 participating CCA students mentored the high school students through brainstorming, draft writing, and finalizing personal stories about what the American Dream means to them. Edits were made, designs and layouts took shape, and at the end of the semester a book was born: We the Dreamers: Young Authors Explore the American Dream. Copies are available for sale at www.826valencia.org.

Says faculty leader Aimee Phan, "CCA students are privileged not only to practice art but also to attend an art school and pursue an education in the arts, something not everyone has the opportunity to do. I think students in this course were really able to appreciate this privilege and motivated to do what they could to supplement the education of the high school students, for whom budget cuts have eliminated the arts curriculum almost entirely.

"The CCA students were more than writing tutors, more than mentors. They were cheerleaders, convincing the high school students to stick with the project and chipping away at their lack of confidence, their conviction that they have nothing to say. Many of the high school students were immigrants, or their parents were immigrants. They all had wonderful, heartfelt stories to tell about the American Dream. Everyone came away with a sense of empowerment, a conviction that they can create positive change. Which essentially is the American Dream."

The CCA students represented a surprisingly wide range of programs, from Jewelry / Metal Arts to Writing, Community Arts, and Architecture. They all had solid writing skills. But they didn't all have previous experience with the issues facing urban public-school education.

Student Laura Ramie (Illustration 2011) agrees that the course was "an eye-opening experience. Most of my classes focus on my creative growth, so this was a welcome change because it was my turn to encourage creativity in others. I think everyone who took the class would agree that they were amazed by the growth in the students we mentored. And I learned just as much from them as they learned from me. It was inspiring to hear their stories."

Excerpted from All Hands on Deck by Samathan Braman.