PSFK talks to 826 National boss about its unique educational model rooted in strong writing skills with a culture of imagination.
PSFK is excited to have Gerald Richards, the Chief Executive Officer of the 826 National, as a speaker at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO. 826 National is a nonprofit organization and chain of tutoring centers dedicated to helping students, ages 6–18, with expository and creative writing. On November 1st, Gerald will discuss putting the creativity back into education and learning through engaging educational programs.
You last spoke at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO about the unconventional ways in which 826 National is bringing education to students. Since your last talk, can you tell us about any new projects?
Well, since we last spoke, we have reopened our process for new chapters. We have identified three cities, where we are thinking 826 would be supportive; Philadelphia, Minneapolis‑St. Paul and Oakland, California. We are working with already established groups that will take the reins of the program.
Beyond that, a lot of it’s been continuing to get the word out about 826. We just did a program with Time Warner Cable through our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and writing workshops, of combining science, technology, engineering and math with creative writing. We piloted that over the summer at two of our chapters in LA and San Francisco.
Maybe you could talk more about the STEM program in particular?
We talk about writing, but what we’re are really about is advocating the importance of writing, and the importance of kids being able to write well.
We were at the Clinton Global Initiative America last year, and started talking to the people at Time Warner Cable about a way that we could combine writing with science. We have creative writing, and a lot of our chapters are science themed, and kids naturally gravitate towards writing about science fiction, fantasy, and the like. The question became, how could we combine the two? How could we combine actual, applied, hands‑on science, with creative writing?
What was the solution?
We began by combing through our book Don’t Forget to Write to find any science themed writing lessons. We then worked with the Coalition for Science After School, and came up with writing workshops that combined hands‑on science. For example, some kids learned to make ice cream, and in Los Angeles kids actually talked to one of the designers of the Mars Rover.
In a way, is it a rethinking of traditional educational programs?
School, unfortunately, right now, is really about tests and it’s mostly results driven.
I look at 826 as an incubator of creativity and the unbridled passion of people creating and building things, some of which you don’t really see in schools.
You get to an 826 and we are results driven. But our ‘results driven’ is about the journey of getting there and how much fun you are having along the way in creating things. There is no test at the end of anything we do.
Can you describe the importance of a hands-on approach to education?
The one‑on‑one attention and the hands‑on approach really gives students and volunteers an opportunity to take ownership over what they’ve created. Our model is rooted in project‑based learning, which really gives the kids a framework to work within. You have a start, you have a middle and then an end. When the process is over, you are left with something tangible in your hands. Afterwards, when the kids have created a book for instance, they can walk away with the finished product that they can keep forever.
What do you consider the larger goal of 826National?
I think that the larger picture is getting the young people that we work with to become engaged citizens. What real-world skills do they have and how do they interact with adults? Do they have the self‑esteem to go after a job or go into whatever field they choose, and are they prepared to present themselves in a way that’s going to be in their best interest? I look at it as the democratic process of life. You are engaged and want to be part of the world.
Please join us on November 1st to hear Gerald discuss putting the creativity back in education through engaging educational programs at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO.