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Lake Erie Ink provides a safe space for youth to express creativity

Jul 17, 2017 04:09PM ● Published by Today's Family

Youth participate in a comic book writing workshop at Lake Erie Ink and learn about storyboarding and character development. In workshops like this, youth interact directly with published comic book writers and illustrators, learning to master the art from professionals themselves.

By Stacy Turner

Lake Erie Ink (LEI) provides creative expression opportunities and academic support to youth in the Greater Cleveland and surrounding communities.  The organization was founded by local teachers Amy Rosenbluth and Cynthia Larsen, who got their start in creative writing programs for youth on the east side of Cleveland.

Poised to begin their seventh year, LEI first began by offering ongoing library writers clubs to students in grades 4–12, as well as elementary school lunchtime writing clubs.  From their humble beginnings, Lake Erie Ink has grown, giving youth not only a voice and an audience, but a safe space to experience the power of creative expression, and the skills required to communicate effectively.  Last year, LEI programs and workshops served over 2,500 youth from kindergarten though grade 12, as well as 127 teachers in area schools.

The Ink Spot, LEI’s afterschool program, provides homework support and guided writing activities to inspire and encourage creative thinking and literacy enrichment in youth in 3rd through 6th grades throughout the school year. Weekend Ink workshops, offered monthly, are open to all ages and feature fun writing activities across a variety of genres with guest writers and artists.  At Teen Ink, middle and high school aged youth come together to write and share their work during weekly drop-in writing sessions, open mic nights, and college essay workshops.  Summer Ink programs provide weeklong summer workshops that intensely explore creative writing through a chosen theme or genre, including poetry, nonfiction, playwriting, personal memoir, fiction, graphic stories and comics.

Through offsite workshops and residencies, LEI works with teachers and staff at schools and youth organizations with fun and motivating writing projects.  LEI helps students improve critical literacy skills while helping them develop self-expression, self-reflection, public speaking and listening skills.  In addition, self-directed projects give students the life skills they’ll need to be able to successfully work together for a shared purpose, to make decisions and solve problems. 

“Some of my students have not responded well to informational text and formula writing,” shared Shaw High School teacher J. Wallingford.  “Given the chance to write creatively, they flourish.  I feel confident that they are better readers and writers because of this past school year and the contributions of Lake Erie Ink.”

Over the last six years, LEI has seen a huge increase in school programs, due in part to their stellar reputation, and in part to the new educational standards which re-emphasize writing skills.  School programs are personalized, based on the particular need — some programs last the entire school year, with classes held once a week, while other schools choose shorter programs on poetry, playwriting, college essay writing, telling stories through comics, and more. “LEI helps teachers reincorporate good writing in the classroom by giving students new ways of learning traditional writing skills,” explained LEI’s development and administration manager Barbie Estrada.  “Our programs help them learn in a new, fun way.”

“We had creative connections to nonfiction topics in social studies and science,” fourth grade teacher S. Cencic from Noble Elementary shared. “Students were highly engaged and motivated to do research for their final written projects of comic strips about inventions and poems about animals in various ecosystems.  Students had a creative writer to give them great tips.”

LEI serves youth of all ages, with different goals and purposes at each age level. 

“For instance, with 8-year-olds, our priority is providing them with an outlet for creativity.  With older participants, we tend to focus more on fostering self-expression,” explained Estrada.  “But it’s not just a place for kids who like writing.  We like to encourage reluctant writers to participate, as well.  It’s a great way to introduce the idea that writing can be fun.  Ultimately, this can help them overcome their fears about writing.”

“A big part of my curriculum objectives deal with life skills,” Options High School teacher A. White explained.  “The writing assignments my students completed tied in well with the content. It felt like their writing was brought to life, which was a new experience for them.  This experience also provided them with more writing practice, preparing them for the OGT.”

Teen programs include Evening Ink, an ongoing workshop that lets teens drop in as their schedules permit.  They see it as a safe place to express themselves and collaborate with others. Often, the group hosts guest writers to highlight different writing styles, methods and opportunities.  Once a month, the group hosts open mic nights to give teens the opportunity to share their work publicly.

“The diversity of teens with so many different backgrounds and interests coming together to express themselves through writing was very impressive to me,” shared Wendy Wilson, a parent of two Evening Ink participants.  “I loved hearing them share their writing especially when I saw how supportive the kids were of each other.  It really is a safe place for them to express themselves. 

“Writing can be frustrating and full of anxiety for many people,” Wilson continued.  “I think this program fosters a comfort level and love of writing that will carry over to every aspect of my kids' lives.” 

Her son, Bryce, a future video game designer, appreciates how the writing process works to help him better develop the story behind his video games.  “My favorite part is coming up with and discussing stories so that I can improve my writing,”  Bryce said. 

Wilson’s other teen, Alexis, is involved in a creative writing club at school called “Power of the Pen.”   She was excited to have another place to sharpen her creative writing and hang out with other kids who share this same passion.  She hopes to be a writer or journalist in the future.

“It's really cool how LEI brings together teens who share a common love of creative writing,” marveled Wilson.  “I wish each community could start an LEI branch so that more kids could experience Evening Ink.”

Recently, LEI published a book of local teen writing through Belt Magazine.  The project was created and compiled by a group of eight teen editors.  This advisory board worked together under the guidance of Lake Erie Ink’s teen coordinator, Cordelia Eddy.  Together, they set the book’s theme — reflections on the meaning of home.

“The editors learned firsthand about the editing and publishing process, from putting out a call for submissions to turning dozens of separate pieces into an organic whole,” said Eddy  “Their dedication to the project is visible throughout the book.”  The work entitled, “Home/Away From Home,” features the work of 48 local teens and is available at local bookstores.  Based on the success of this project, LEI will begin a new youth-led publishing project this fall.

Although Lake Erie Ink is based in Cleveland Heights, kids from other communities are welcome to participate.  For more information on LEI programs and workshops, visit them online at lakeerieink.org.

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