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CityLit Kids' Pilot Year Leads to Success, Expansion


As CityLit Kids nears the end of a successful pilot year at one Baltimore city public school, creators are evaluating the program's impact while planning for expansion. Created by writers, educators, and parents of young learners, CityLit Kids brings the literary arts into a fourth grade classroom at Govans Elementary School in north Baltimore.

While ultimately the three co-creators wish to see the program replicated at other schools, their next step is to expand to a fifth grade curriculum with the same students at Govans while introducing a new fourth-grade group to the program. This year, they delivered the weekly program themselves; now, they hope to enlist graduate students in the University of Baltimore's MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts program.

Scroll to the bottom for a PDF link to the complete press release.


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.  Students are supplied with a CityLit Kids journal and pen, receive a copy of the award-winning Stone Soup literary magazine to help bridge the winter holidays gap, and receive a book of their own at the end of the program.

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.

Meeting and Talking With Writers

On December 9, 2010, children’s author Margaret Musgrove shared her two illustrated books: Ashanti to Zulu” African Traditions and The Spider Weaver: A Legend of Kente Cloth.  She also brought in samples of Kente cloth, statuary, and artifacts from her visits to Ghana.  The CityLit Kids were attentive, engaged, and inquisitive.


Click on the image below for a short video of Margaret Musgrove's visit to CityLit Kids at Govans Elementary School.

Meeting a Need

CityLit Kids creators surveyed teachers who expressed a need for creative writing activities in the classroom. The bulk of classroom time is spent in reading instruction, often toward the goal of preparing pupils for the Maryland State Assessment (MSA). At the mention of supervised creative writing activities, teachers became enthusiastic with responses such as “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.

Goals and Anticipated Outcomes

Over the course of 9–10 months, CityLit Kids intends to instill in pupils excitement about reading, eagerness about writing, and confidence in their ability to do both. Also, the program hopes to build enthusiasm among pupils, teachers, volunteers, and guest writers around the common goal of creating a literary community. Further, the board intends to constantly improve and revise the program to incorporate best practices learned throughout the process, to the benefit of the teachers and the pupils.


Measuring Success

For the pilot program, we will generate mostly qualitative data from surveys distributed to pupils at the beginning of the school year, and at the end. We may extend our data-gathering to the partner-teacher, as well. The surveys will measure enthusiasm for reading, enthusiasm for writing, and self-evaluation of the challenge presented by the study of language arts.

Pilot School (Govans Elementary School)

With principal Linda Taylor in the lead, Govans Elementary is one of 132 elementary schools in the Baltimore City Public Schools system. It serves 357 pupils in grades Pre-K through 5. By large majority—97 percent—the student body is black. Males represent 55 percent of the pupils, females 45 percent. The majority of pupils at Govans are financially challenged: 73 percent are eligible for free lunch, and 13 percent qualify for reduced lunch.

In 2009, the school achieved the minimum levels of improvement necessary to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). In 2010, the MSA reading scores indicate that majority (74%) of fourth-graders at Govans are reading at a “proficient” level. Above proficiency (“advanced”) are 24% of fourth-graders, and below proficiency are 2%.

Govans Elementary reading scores track significantly higher than the average Baltimore City public fourth-grade. (The average fourth-grade classroom has 24% below proficiency readers, 62% proficient, and 13% advanced.) While CityLit Kids aims to reach a group of learners with more diverse proficiencies than those at Govans, for the pilot program this partnership seemed an ideal way to launch, learn and expand.

There are 53 students in fourth-grade at Govans Elementary. CityLit Kids will work with one classroom of 20–25 pupils.

About CityLit Kids Co-Creators


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.

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.

For more information, please contact Christine Grillo.

For a complete press release on the program's pilot year, simply click on the PDF link below:
Click here to download PDF

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