When most people think about the rapport between high school sophomores and freshmen, they may not conceive it as protective or nurturing. But, the 10th graders of the Institute for Media and Writing at the Bayard Rustin Educational Complex are looking out for their 9th grade peers with the publication of their new SPI-sponsored book, Confessions of an Ex-Freshman: A Survival Guide for Freshmen by Sophomores Who Made It Through.
The book features eighteen chapters of student-chosen topics describing their experience during that intimidating first year of high school, ranging from “Staying Out of Trouble,” to “Making the Grade,” and “Gossip, Drama & Popularity.” With its universal themes, edgy design, and idiosyncratic writing style, the book rings with a sense of authenticity.
“We wanted the students to maintain their personalities throughout the pieces,” says Erin Quigley, SPI curriculum consultant and former teacher at the Institute.
In order to achieve this effect, the students spent a great deal of time focusing on voice in their writing.
“They had a lot to say on the subject about their personal experiences, mistakes, successes, challenges, and dreams,” Quigley said. “But Confessions of an Ex-Freshmen also balances that personal reflection, with interview and profiling in an attempt to help the teens bridge their own perspectives with those of the people around them.”
In order to learn more about their topics, the students interviewed experts in their school including guidance counselors and school administrators. Not only did this enrich the writing, but the interviews helped to build community within the school.
Quigley said, “I saw connections, after this project, with teachers they interviewed or with custodial staff or the deans, the nurse, the lunch lady – they knew them in a different way.”
The unanticipated benefits of this project turned out to be the best, according to different participants. One of the student authors was leery of the yearlong project during its beginning stages.
Yet, when she saw her peers start to think past high school and begin to write about their aspirations, she invested in her own piece. Because of the project, started coming to school, passing that semester, after having failed the first.
She wasn’t the only student touched through the agency and authorship of telling both their own stories and those of the people they interviewed. Many students started expressing goals and opinions they had never shared before.
Some institute teachers believe SPI projects like Confessions of an Ex-Freshmen are often the only things many students can count on to work out. Others feel the project will help preserve the hard work and memories made in this school community.
“I think this type of project brings out the best in you,” says Quigley.