Conceived in the spring of 2010 by a small group of writers and educators, CityLit Kids was created to bring literary arts into the public school classrooms of Baltimore City. The founders—writers, educators and parents of young learners—dedicated themselves to beginning the program in the 2010–2011 school year, established a partnership with a school, its principal and a fourth-grade classroom teacher.
In the search for a pilot program partner, the board decided to partner first with a “zoned” school, ruling out charter schools, in the hope that a school pulling pupils from a geographic zone would provide a broad range of learners. The board queried five schools and partnered with Govans Elementary.
CityLit Kids builds a community of enthusiastic writers and readers in Baltimore public schools by bringing the literary community into the classroom. Trained, experienced volunteers establish routine visits to fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms to read aloud from a riveting work of fiction and lead creative writing exercises designed to inspire and excite.
At the end of the year, the students receive a book and journal of their own.
The read-aloud books are selected for age-appropriateness, but also for the right mix of substance and kid appeal. The journaling exercises, based on prompts that tie in with the reading, are intended to expose students to the fun of creative writing and the joy of sharing one's work. The Baltimore literary community provides special ballast for the program—periodically, “guest writers” accompany the regular volunteer to the classroom to read from their own work and discuss the life of a writer.
The academic year concludes with book giveaways for every pupil, and the opportunity to take home the journal that was used during the year. After informally interviewing many teachers in the public school system, the CityLit Kids board found that the surveyed teachers perceived a need for writing activities in the classroom, especially creative ones. The lion’s share of classroom time is spent in reading instruction, often toward the goal of preparing pupils for the Maryland State Assessment (MSA) that takes place in the spring. At the mention of supervised creative writing activities, teachers became enthusiastic. The board heard responses that included “The students love to be read to,” and “They love to write,” tempered with laments that this kind of instruction was not part of the standard curriculum. Most of the teachers interviewed expressed a desire to have such a program in their own classrooms.
CityLit Kids Program Committee
Jane Delury is a published writer of fiction (The Southern Review, Narrative, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, StoryQuarterly, The Sun Magazine, among others), an awardee of the Maryland State Arts Council and a fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, she is on the faculty of the University of Baltimore’s MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts program. She is also the mother of two daughters, one of whom is a third-grader in a Baltimore County public school.
Christine Grillo is a published writer of fiction and science articles, an editor and a fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, she is a senior writer and associate editor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is also the mother of three children, one a fourth-grader and one a second-grader in a Baltimore City public school.
Patrice Hutton is a writer of fiction and poetry and a former recipient of an Open Society Institute-Baltimore Community Fellowship. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, she is the founder and director of Writers in Baltimore Schools (WBS), a program that provides low-income middle school students with creative writing workshops taught by Baltimore college students.
Elissa Brent Weissman is a published author of novels for children ages eight to twelve (Standing for Socks, The Trouble with Mark Hopper, and Nerd Camp). She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and the Roehampton University, London, MA in Children’s Literature program. A member of the CityLit Project board of directors, she teaches writing and literature at the University of Baltimore, Towson University, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.