New lab promotes writing

Christina Smith
Pictured, from left, Matt Vromann and Ed Taylor work during a graphic novel workshop at the Word Space writing lab earlier this spring. Stephanie Scott, a Washington Community High School English teacher and Washington District Library director Pam Tomka started the writing lab at the library in March.

An interest in promoting writing within the Washington community led Washington District Library director Pam Tomka and Washington Community High School English teacher Stephanie Scott to develop a community writing lab, called Word Space, at the new library.

Tomka said she received a $68,200 grant from the Illinois State Library’s Library Service and Technology Act and an additional $18,056 grant from the AT& T Corporation, which allowed her and Scott to start the lab.

“More than a year ago, I told (Pam) Tomka I would love to do a writing lab someday and found out she had had the same idea,” Scott said.

Tomka said while the grants allowed her and Scott to start the lab, they did not cover any furniture for the lab.

“We have folding tables and plastic chairs in the lab, so any help with other furnishings would be appreciated,” Tomka said.

Since mid-March, about 12 WCHS senior students started volunteering to offer after-school tutoring for elementary and middle-school students during the school year.

Students received help with math, reading, writing or other subjects from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Scott said she received a letter from a mother of a Central Grade School student informing her how much the tutoring helped her daughter.

“I think the tutoring will catch on next year when students realize how helpful it is,” Scott said.

For the next school year, Scott said volunteers from the community will be needed to help with the tutoring program.

Although tutoring has finished for this year, Tomka said the lab will be open for writing workshops and other activities throughout the summer.

Summer activities

During the first four weeks of July, students from second grade through high school seniors can participate in a summer writing camp.

Tomka said students can sign up for different sessions or the entire program.

Second- through-fourth-grade students will meet from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays, while fifth-through eighth-grade students will meet from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays, and high school students will meet from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays.

Tomka said a workshop by Mike Anderson on writing picture books took place Saturday and a two-part workshop by John Throop on getting published took place May 13 and May 20.

A future workshop on poetry will also be scheduled later this summer.

Scott said some of the workshops, such as the graphic novel seminar, are geared toward students, while others are open to the public.

“This year, we are operating on grant money, but in the future, there might be some fee for workshop registrations,” Scott said.

Inspiration and model

Scott and Tomka both said the idea for the community lab was inspired from the 826 National program, a non-profit tutoring, writing and publishing organization with seven locations around the country.

Scott said her student tutors visited the Chicago lab and spent a day working there.

Author and journalist Dave Eggers and NA-nive Calegari, an author and a former teacher in Mexico and San Francisco, co-founded 826 National to provide free help for public school students to develop their writing abilities.

Calegari also serves as 826 National’s chief executive officer and has a master’s degree in education from Harvard University’s graduate school of education.

Last month, 47 Chicago public high school students released their book, “Right in Front of Us,” a collection of short stories with a foreword by author Alex Kotlowitz, who wrote “There Are No Children Here.”

Located in the Wicker Park neighborhood, the Chicago 826 lab also offers assistance for English language learners and assistance with student publications.

“Over time, I would like to see the writing lab grow and reach writers of all ages,” Scott said.

For more information about the lab, summer camp or a donation, contact Tomka at 444-2241, or visit the library’s Web site,