"We're trying to really tap into the surrounding community," says Paula Levin about her new kids' writing program this summer, the Literary Arts Boom (or
) in Garfield. "Instead of saying, 'Come on, don't you like writing?' we're interested in engaging kids on [the idea] that writing is fun and there are a lot of cool things that come out of writing, such as putting yourself in a blog or a chat room or a zine. The kids get a real-world look at how their [writing] is relevant to them."
Sharing space with Assemble, the arts and high-tech community place and gallery on Penn Avenue, The Lab is a pilot project for kids 6-18, recruiting community members to show how writing is both creative and practical. The Lab received a Micro Spark grant from the Sprout Fund's Spark program, and Levin, as a December graduate of Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College, is using her Lewis Fellowship in Social Innovation from the school to fund the project.
She calls herself the "lead experimenter." So far, the program has been developing a kind of mad-scientist theme for some of their activities as they proceed.
"It's really the spirit of experimentation, invention, creativity," Levin explains. "We're coming up with a lot of workshops that hopefully are exciting to kids and don't feel like school."
The once-weekly Lab combines traditional writing projects, such as composing poetry, with science and technology-related subjects, such as paper making, creating pop-up books and exploring kitchen chemistry. Each week's "Experi-Monday" workshop is different.
So far, the program has attracted more kids ages 6-11 than other age groups, and Levin is trying to plan more activities to serve older kids. "The big-term goal for this program," she says, "is to help youth and teens improve their writing while they're being creative and learning about the world around them."
Using a grant from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, on Aug. 11 and 18 The Lab will hold a public event called Movable Type -- Kinetic Poetry, for which Lab kids will design T-shirts and signs with individual words and face the live challenge of forming messages and poetry. Levin is still determining the location. She also plans for Lab participants to turn part of the Assemble storefront into a mad scientist-themed area for selling items that will generate revenue for the program.
The Lab today -- and after school in the fall, when it will add homework help sessions -- is heavily dependent on volunteer mentors. The next volunteer trainings are Aug. 7 (to learn how to do homework help) and Aug. 9 (to discuss how to develop workshops at The Lab).
"We love educators and artists and writers, but we have plenty of room for people who want to do marketing" and other tasks, Levin notes.
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Paula Levin, The Lab