Why WITS Matters
September 30, 2018
It’s a magical moment when young people begin experimenting with writing in order to make sense of their place in the world. We see this every fall, when Writers in the Schools hosts its WITS Anthology Launch—in this powerful afternoon of youth voices, we see what happens when space is created for youth to think, engage, and play on the page.
On September 16, 2018, over 50 students shared poetry, stories, and comics from their brand new publication, Tomorrow I Will Whisper Your Name; we were also lucky to have our state poet laureate, Claudia Castro Luna, deliver the following remarks which punctuate why this work matters. You can view photos from the evening here, and listen to audio here!
By Claudia Castro Luna
As Washington State’s Poet Laureate, I begin my readings by sharing two poems from Washington residents: one from a youth and one from an adult. I carry a copy of the WITS anthology with me everywhere I go. I’ve shared poems from the anthology in the San Juan Islands, in Walla Walla, in various other towns in Eastern Washington and all over Puget Sound. The book, as you just have heard, celebrates the brilliance of children and youth, the innate poets that we all are. But my relationship with the anthology is more than as an enthusiastic reader.
When my oldest daughter was a freshman in high school, she worked with the fabulous Daemond Arrindell, who was the WITS Writer at West Seattle High. She is an avid reader and enjoys writing, and I know the program deepened her skills and love of writing. One her poems was even selected for that year’s anthology!
If being a fan and a parent of a WITS student were not enough, I have also collaborated with WITS as a visiting writer to the schools. Last May, I visited Puesta del Sol Elementary, where I met two large groups of third, fourth, and fifth graders to talk about poetry, the writing process and the life of a writer—I did this in Spanish! These may seen rather abstract, difficult or perhaps “boring” topics for young folks, but because of the work the children did with their WITS Writer, they were curious and excited to talk shop.
“Feelings and thoughts are abstract, understanding that one can harness them, color them, organize them in a composition is one of the most challenging intellectual tasks a person can do.”
As we celebrate the imagination, talent, and courage of these young readers today, we might be tempted to overlook all the work that goes into designing and bringing these programs to our schools, and in our exuberance, the myriad ramifications of having a WITS Writer in our children’s schools may not be readily evident.
“These are transferable skills. Our children will use them in other disciplines and apply them in all kinds of circumstances for the rest of their lives.”
Feelings and thoughts are abstract, understanding that one can harness them, color them, organize them in a composition is one of the most challenging intellectual tasks a person can do. It demands we use the highest level thinking skills: envisioning an idea, evaluating words’ denotations and connotations, analyzing forms, applying writing skills. These are transferable skills. Our children will use them in other disciplines and apply them in all kinds of circumstances for the rest of their lives. Not all WITS kids get their poems published in the anthology, but all of them reap the benefits I just mentioned.
Yet, there are more benefits still: creating classroom communities where students practice respect for someone else’s opinion, deepen empathy and appreciation of differences, provide publishing opportunities for children, contribute to the literary scene of our region. No small feat!
If you are able, I invite you to consider a donation to the WITS program so that more children in our area have the opportunity to explore their inner lives in a meaningful, relevant, interactive, fun way that will stay with them always and in the process gift beauty to us all.