(Photo: William E. Poole)
By Sammy Tran, Educational Programs Intern
“We’re gathered here today to celebrate the release of The Battle Within: Stories of Struggle and Strength written by students at Ida B. Wells,” In-Schools’ Program Manager Ryan Young broke the silence as students clutched their newly published book. The class’ co-teachers, Ms. Taylor and Mr. Hennessy, along with other students and their families, volunteer tutors, 826 staff, and Khaled Hosseini (the esteemed author of The Kite Runner) gathered at the 826 Valencia’s Tenderloin Center for the book-release party. Cheers and applause erupted as Ryan finished his sentence, setting the festive tone for the rest of the evening. Smiles were permanently plastered on faces as students read excerpts from the book, answered questions about their writing process, and enjoyed popcorn, cookies, and lemonade.
The Young Authors’ Book Project (YABP) happens annually as an opportunity for students to become published authors and that rotates to a different school each year. The fact that this is the first year that 826 has worked with Ida B. Wells for this project is a hallmark. Additionally noteworthy is that Ida B. Wells is a continuation school, which they define as “an alternative school established to serve students who are age 16 and older and seeking to complete the high school portion of their education in a setting with smaller classes, an array of credit recovery opportunities, and a supportive ‘family-like’ learning environment.” When asked what surprised them throughout the project, one student said, “Before this project, I wasn’t ready to write a book, but programs like this help; they make me feel better.”
Another notable aspect of this year’s YABP was the partnership with Khaled Hosseini as his book The Kite Runner was the thematic inspiration for The Battle Within: Stories of Struggle and Strength. Students’ analysis of the characters in The Kite Runner became seeds for their writing. In the span of ten tutoring sessions, students were able to write, revise, edit, revise, edit again, and finally publish their work with the assistance of one-on-one tutor support. When asked about how the students felt about the tutors, one student commented, “They were really nice…someone was there that enjoyed writing as much as I did, and they offered a ton of different ways to improve my writing.” In addition to having tutor support, students also welcomed Hosseini to their class to read a chapter of The Kite Runner and answer their questions about his inspirations and decisions in writing. Hosseini also wrote the foreword for The Battle Within: Stories of Struggle and Strength and graciously signed students’ copies at the book-release party.
The afternoon party was filled with tears as students read excerpts from their writings, causing a ripple of emotion in the audience. The profoundness of these students’ struggles and battles caused many people to hold back the tears. And when asked about how the book title was chosen, a student said, “I named it! We voted and stuff, but I noticed that we all have obstacles and struggles, and I just shouted it out!” The same student proudly declared, “I’m legit now! I got a book!”
Another reason for celebration was the surprise announcement of 826’s Teacher of the Month award to Ms. Taylor and Mr. Hennessy. They were unable to hold back the tears as their students cheered and clapped in approval. Mr. Hennessy said, “I love what I do, and the students always surprise me. I’m doing this for you, guys, thank you.” This is our way of acknowledging the tremendous work and support from both Ms. Taylor and Mr. Hennessy.
We thank Khaled Hosseini for all his work and inspiration throughout this project and for visiting the students. We also thank all the tutors for volunteering and investing time in working with students. Thank you to all 826 staff members, parents, and students who helped us celebrate the release of this book. And last but not least, thanks to the students for letting us see glimpses of their battles and for sharing their experiences with the world. And for aspiring writers, a student has these parting words to say: “It will only get better if you keep practicing.”