South Philadelphia: Helping Kids Write in the Age of Texting

A young writer hard at work during the Sunday morning Garden Writing workshop.

With barely decipherable text messages, tweets and Facebook posts dominating many students’ writing, one South Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization seeks to bring proper reading and writing back into style with fun, educational workshops.

Students learn valuable nutritional facts while improving their writing each week in the Garden Writing Club

Mighty Writers, started by the former editor of Philadelphia Weekly, Tim Whitaker, serves the dual purpose of teaching grammar and building self confidence. “Teaching writing to kids was something I’d been thinking about for a few years. I was inspired by the work of the writer Dave Eggers and with the work of Bill Strickland. When I saw the impact their programs had on kids, I wanted to find a way to do the same,” he says.

Since last July the Mighty Writers program, located at 1501 Christian St., has helped more than 500 students through after school programs, workshops and walk-in tutoring. “Our workshops range from garden writing, to poetry fun to our teen lounge on Wednesday nights. We have workshops for kids aged five to 18,” says program director Rachel Loeper.

A young writer hard at work during the Sunday morning garden writing workshop.

For volunteers and other participants, there is nothing more satisfying than to see students come into their own voice. “While we get plenty of students who already love writing, we love to see more reluctant students start to produce really cool poetry and to get their opinions out there. We like to win over the skeptics with fun workshops such as sports writing,” Loeper explains.

In 10 months, Loeper learned just as much from the Mighty Writers program as the children enrolled. “When we started we really didn’t know what to expect, we thought students would be more reluctant to come in and see what we were all about, when in fact we have just been so lucky to have children storming our doors from the very beginning.”

Parents are oftentimes equally as enthusiastic about the program. “My daughter loves to write,” says Jenny Weiler whose daughter attended the garden writing workshop. “I think it’s great that Mighty Writers is giving structure to her writing. When you think about it, writing can be an independent and lonely experience, so it’s nice to see her doing what she loves and making friends.”

The Garden Writers Club work together to create a colorful and mighty sign for their garden.

Although 500 student participants in one year is nothing to scoff at, Mighty Writers has even mightier goals for the future. “First, we plan to expand to the second floor of this building so we can run two workshops simultaneously,” Loeper explains. “We’re also looking at locations in North and West Philadelphia.”

In order to expand, Mighty Writers continues to draw on the service of its volunteers and is always searching for new members to join the team, Whitaker says. “We can’t believe how generous the writers in the city are being about their time. We love them all.”

1 Comment

  1. My hats off to all involved with this project. Very little makes students take pride in their work more than having the skill of being a good writer. Writing is creating! Being an inner-city teacher myself, I can say with some authority that writing is the key to ending the poverty cycle that these kids find themselves in. Reading, math, and science don’t create the same pride of ownership that writing does. I salute all who volunteer their time for this program!

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