Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Visiting the Scholastic Office in New York City

by Kelly Sassi

The newly remodeled offices include lots of art from the books published by Scholastic, Inc. 
Today, I visited the new Scholastic offices in New York City at 130 Mercer Street. The reason for my visit was to attend the board meeting of the Alliance of Young Artists and Writers. Who are they? The Alliance is the nonprofit organization that runs the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. The Red River Valley Writing Project is in its 5th year of serving as an Affiliate for the Awards. We partner with Plains Art Museum to promote the awards, encourage submissions, oversee blind adjudication, and award gold key, silver key, and honorable mention awards to North Dakota students ages 13 to 18.

The board of the Alliance has an Affiliate Advisory Council, made up of 7 members. My role on the Council is as representative of the 11 writing project sites who serve as state affiliates for the Awards. This is my second of three years serving on the Council. I've learned a lot more about how the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards work, which helps our work here in North Dakota. I have also passed on feedback to Scholastic that has improved how the Awards work. One of the big changes is the use of online submissions and payments.

After the board meeting, M. R. Robinson (the owner of Scholastic) hosted a dinner at the posh Crosby Hotel. During the dinner, people shared more personal stories about why they are inspired and motivated to work on the Awards. One board member, Andy Merson, was so moved by our work here in North Dakota that he took out his checkbook and generously wrote a check--right then and there-- for $2000 to support us! People really do care about creative teens in North Dakota and want them to have access to the recognition that the Awards provides. I remember when our whole budget for the first year of running the state Scholastic Program was only $500 (and it hasn't increased much since), so this kind of gift really makes a difference!

Here is the report I presented to the board:

Report from the Writing Project Affiliates
Conference Proposal Accepted
The Philadelphia, New Hampshire, Northwestern, and Red River Valley writing projects, with
support of Debra Samdperil, collaborated on a proposal to present at the National Council for Teachers of English Annual Convention in Houston, TX. The proposal was accepted, and the group will present on “Fostering the Emergence of Personal Voice through Collaboration between Writing Project Sites and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards” in November. 

Affiliate Anthologies Published
At least two writing project sites have published award-winning student work using the Lulu.com platform. Meg Peterson of the New Hampshire Writing Project has blogged about the importance (and hard work) of publishing these anthologies.

Student Successes
·      Grace Morse (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, 2018; Gold Key, Writing Portfolio, 2018) received one of two Thomas Wolfe creative writing scholarships from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. 

·      Emily Trinh (Lusher Charter School, 2018; Gold Medal, Poetry, American Voices Medal, 2018) received the Patricia Cornwell creative writing scholarship at Davidson College. These are two of the most competitive and prestigious national scholarships for writers.

Affiliates are Growing
The Greater New Orleans Writing Project expanded their region from Southeast Louisiana to all of South Louisiana and added an art affiliate. Also, a prominent local writer has agreed to host a fundraising house party for them. The Red River Valley Writing Project doubled the number of submissions each year for the first three years of serving as an Affiliate. After talking with Kelly Sassi and Debra Samdperil at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, the Minnesota Writing Project became an Affiliate of the Awards.

The Alliance for Young Artists and Writers Supports Writing Project Sites
The Alliance for Young Artists and Writers supports writing project sites by helping to fund summer programs like the 2018 Video Game Design workshop at Turtle Mountain Reservation. The Alliance has found sponsors, in this case the Entertainment Software Association Foundation, to provide the summer workshops and made those available to Affiliates. The staff at the Alliance has been exceptionally responsive to the needs of the diverse sites it supports. In the case of Turtle Mountain, they heard the need for sustainable support and have truly earned the trust and respect of the Ojibwe teachers, students, and administrators on that reservation.

Challenges Faced by Writing Project Affiliates
The Chicago affiliate has had a wonderful experience with the Awards for the past 10 years, allowing them to involve retired teachers and directly celebrate great student writing. However, this year the Chicago Area Writing Project is feeling the effects of downsizing because of loss of federal funding at the National Writing Project level, so they have asked Writopia to co-sponsor this year's Scholastic program.
The Red River Valley Writing Project in North Dakota experienced a 90% cut in state funding this biennium, due to declining oil revenues, but gained two new scholarships to attract students to the Awards: the North Dakota State University Art Department is offering a new scholarship ($1500 each of 4 years) for the top senior in art, and the English Department is offering a new $600 scholarship. 

This is the end of my report--but here are a few more photos of the Scholastic offices. 

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are represented among the many books on display in the Scholastic Offices

Some of the original Scholastic Magazine covers are on display in the meeting rooms

Clifford the Big Red Dog is on display in several parts of the building

How fitting that we met in this room--it truly was a magical day for me!

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