As the pandemic closed schools in the spring, a BEF grant gave BHS students a chance to continue their writing class in a unique way. After exploring the creative process for more than six months via classroom, and then switching to group and individual online learning, each student in the class proudly published their own books of poetry and prose. Not only did BEF grant dollars provide each student with the chance to publish and receive a printed copy of their books, it also provided a copy of each new book to the BHS library. To kick off the project, in December the students visited The Poets House in New York City. Many remarked that they enjoyed the field trip and the chance it gave them to collaborate with other writers. It is the hope of BHS teacher and project creator, Danielle Freeman, that the published student library will give every student at BHS a chance to read their peers’ work and encourage students of all ages to pursue writing in or outside of school.
“The two main goals of this project are to get students more inspired to write and read and to give them the chance to experience both a publishing setting and what it means to be a published author,” explained Freeman.
“I measured the project’s goals by tracking online changes and accessing each book in progress. Once the students completed a segment of the project, they filled out reflection responses, requiring them to think critically about what they learned, and how it benefited them. Upon completion of their published books, each student completed a more rigorous reflection, which revealed their thoughts on the overall experience. Furthermore, every student at Bloomfield High School can checkout the “Student Author Books” from the library. This will provide a record of how many students are interested in reading the work and provides opportunities for teachers to use the books for various grade level lessons,” she continued.
In the beginning of the year no one had any idea that learning would be virtual. The students involved in the project said that this grant was one of the few exciting things they had to look forward to. In a class that was half seniors, it gave them a positive goal to work towards at the end of the year when they had lost so many celebrations due to social distancing. The student feedback was amazing and so was the end result of their growth as writers, each having authored their own book.
“So many of the students have asked me to thank the BEF and to tell you that this was a “life changing experience” for them. I have also had students outside the class that have already asked when and how they will be able to read the books. It is so encouraging to see how excited the student body is to read their peers’ work,” Freeman exclaimed.
The following are a few quotes from the student reflections about their experience:
“I’ve always loved writing, but poetry was foreign to me. Thanks to your grant I’ve fallen in love with poetry and have gained more confidence as a writer.”
“Thank you for allowing me to finally use my love of writing and poetry to be myself and write something that matters.”
“Personally, I have learned a lot about myself and my writing through this journey. Publishing this book has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.”
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity to publish my own book! I’ve always wanted to do such a thing since I was a child, thank you so much to the BEF for providing me with this experience.”
“Thank you for giving me this opportunity that I probably would’ve never gotten if it weren’t for you, so thank you so much. What you’ve done for us is MUCH appreciated!!”
“I always wanted to publish a book and I never thought I would get the chance to. I would like to thank BEF for giving me a chance to express myself and achieve one of my goals.”
Student answers included the following in their final reflective survey of the project.
How do you think this publishing experience made you a better writer?
“It made me more purposeful and careful with my words and poems.”
“This publishing experience helped me learn how to edit more thoroughly and learn what I write about the most. I learned how to categorize my work and figure out how I write while analyzing my work.”
“Publishing gave me further insight on how creating a piece works as well as inspiring me to want to create more.”
“It made me write more consistently throughout the year. It gave me a deadline and a clear goal to work towards. Publishing made me believe that I could complete my work (before I never finished any stories or poems I had started). It also made me explore writing styles that were new to me and helped me find my personal style. I learned under what conditions I worked best to produce my favorite poems.”
“This publishing experience taught me how to write authentically while keeping the reader in mind. I also spent a lot of time revising and editing and improving my grammar skills.”
“This experience made me more conscious of certain aspects of writing I didn’t pay that much attention to previously such as: formatting, character portrayal, etc.”
“Considering I was actually being published, I felt more pressured into making sure that my writing was as perfect as I can make it and I definitely edited every poem multiple times in order to ensure I was satisfied with them.”
“It allowed me to really experiment with writing.”
What were some of the more challenging moments of publishing this book?
“Staring at a blank page in the beginning. I also worried about whether my poems and stories were good enough to be formally published. I’ve never put together a poetry book so organizing the poems was a great challenge.”
“Putting it together! The formatting of it all was definitely challenging.”
“The more challenging moment of publishing this book was making it all come together, as well as creating a cover for the book that really accentuates the title.”
“Trying to put my poems in order to make them tell a story was really difficult. I wanted to tell a story and have the audience understand me.
What advice do you have for next year’s publishing authors?
“Have fun & be creative.”
“Use time wisely and be okay with having to start over and be able to take criticism.”
“Just have fun with it. It can literally be anything you want it to and it’s an awesome opportunity. Don’t hold back your creativity!”
“Try to work through your writer’s block. Also remember if you have had any ideas for stories this is your chance to get your ideas published. Don’t waste it.”
“Write as many poems as possible so it is easier for you to choose which ones you want to include in your book. Re-reading and editing are your best friends. Don’t be afraid of editing a poem fifty times if you have to; it will all be worth it in the end. Read a lot of poetry whether it is classic or modern so that you can learn the rules of poetry. Don’t be afraid to include your emotions in your poetry even if it feels personal; this will help the words come out easier.”
“My advice is to really take your time on the book you are publishing. You want to make sure you love everything you wrote in it. Try your best not to procrastinate and just let your creativity take the lead.”
“Make sure to set time aside for formatting and design, it’s a long process.”
“Don’t wait until the last minute to do things.”
There are 20 new works in the Student Author section of the BHS Library for all to enjoy.
While Ms. Freeman is currently hard at work with the next creative writing and publishing project at BHS, she took a moment to provide the following update from BHS.
“Our school seems to be doing really well. I know many students are really struggling with sitting in front of the screen for a full day but they have also expressed that they are happy to be seeing their teachers and peers again. As the year goes on the students seem to be getting more comfortable with talking in the Google meets and showing their faces, which was really rare for them to do during the first few weeks. When I email parents about how their child is doing they have given me great feedback about how supportive and helpful the teachers at each grade level have been during this time, and some parents have even offered help should I need it. Although there is no perfect situation for students to learn during this pandemic, they are doing their best and it seems to be bringing some of the Bloomfield community together in a positive way.”