. Ah a s
IM Wensdy Jnar 5 21 1 heSatmn
of a tutoring session
On one afternoon I was at 826, Seth Greenberg,
a second-year MBA student, was tutoring Harib
Moheyuddin, a seventh grader at Forsythe Middle
School in Ann Arbor, in math.
Moheyuddin was working on solving variable equa-
tions, and he had two worksheets spread out in front of
him. He was solving for x in the equation
lft = 2
Moheyuddin breezed through the first set of prob-
lems on the sheet. But then he reached problem E,
which asked him to solve for x in the equation, 3(x + 4):
= 18, and paused.
Greenberg asked him if he understood how to
solve the problem, but Moheyuddin didn't. Greenberg
explained the two ways to do it, drawing the solutions
out on a sheet Moheyuddin looked at for the rest of the
session and then packed away.
He finished, thanked Greenberg, and began filling
out the tutorevaluation sheet. On the second question,
which asked him how he felt about tutoring that day
and offered him the choices of an upside down kanga-
roo ("confused") or an open hand next to one showing
a peace sign (7 out of ten) among others, he circled
I asked him why he had chosen the shield.
"It feels like a badge more than a shield," he said.
ILLUSTRATION: SHELBY JANt CUREN-GARBER
The extra "something" is 826's emphasis on creative writ-
Steven Gillis, the novelist who opened 826michigan in
2005, said he believes students who cannot write proficiently
"A lot of kids fear the blank page," he said. "A lot of kids
think they can't write or have trouble reading. And if you
can't read and write, everything just falls apart."
826michigan, as a feature of its philosophical culture and
its mission statement, strives to prevent that falling apart. The
2,330 students it helped last year span the literacy spectrum
from English-as-a-second-language learners to adept writers
who simply need a community to debate whether "serene" or
"tranquil" is the better word to use in their short story.
"What we're trying to tell them is, as long as you're writ-
ing, you can't do anything wrong," Amy Wilson, 826michi-
gan's communications coordinator, said. "So much of it is just
having somebody to say, 'Wow, you're doing really well,' and,
'This is really cool,' and, 'Maybe let's add onto it in this way."'
Wilson, who graduated from the University in 2010, is gre-
garious and somehow motherly. She sat back as I asked her
whether students seemed to at least appreciate writing more
once they had dropped in for afterschool tutoringor took part
in an in-school program. She smiled, said she had seen stu-
dents growingmore "fluent" with language, and then paused.
When she started speaking again, she had whirled herself
into one of 826michigan's mostbeloved stories. A few years ago,
the center's program director, Amy Sumerton, was struggling
to inspire a particularly averse fourth or fifth grader to write.
"And slowly, slowly he was making progress," Wilson
recalled, "and then she came in one day and he said, 'Amy,
I'm so glad you're here. There's this question I've been want-
ing to ask you all week. Is there such a thing as too much
narrative tension?' This is an eight-year-old student who had
been forced to write in his journal before. And that's amaz-
ing. We love that story."
A classroom adventure
Janet Popper, a third grade teacher at Haisley Elementary
School in Ann Arbor, was among 826michigan's early advo-
Popper graduated from the University in the 1970s and
has enjoyed writing ever since a nun read her essay aloud
when she was in middle school. She's been taking her stu-
dents on field trips to 826michigan for several years now, and
returned Jan. 13 with about 25students.
The students filed in and sat around the tables in 826mich-
igan's tutoring center while the staff fired up a PowerPoint
presenting a story. It went like this: Katie, a two-headed
dragon, had stolen the fabulous Popper Diamond, and
Jacques, a robot, his genius sidekick Evan, and Owen, chief
of police, had been charged with tracking it down. They do
so, cornering Katie the dragon ina cave, where she confesses
she has been stealing ever since she lost her favorite toy when
she was young.
Just then, a voice blasted out of the 826 staff's computer.
Calling from an Estonian castle - "definitely not Skyping in
from the basement downstairs," Selasky, the tutoring intern,
cautioned me on one of my earlier visits - was the villainous
Dr. Blotch was a 212-year-old Louisiana resident who
owned a booger ranch in Brazil. He hated children and
hated their stories even more, approving of none of them
and rejecting 1,300,454,556,553. But he was demanding 200
pages from Popper's class in an hour, promising none of their
endings to Jacques, Evan and Owen's lark would earn her
Dr. Blotch then signed off, and the students began scrawl-
ing furiously. A few bandied about possible endings with one
another, imagining stories of redemption for Katie or-hero-
ics for Evan, but most were silent, crafting their most daring
endings and then drawing the scene on a separate cover page.
Popper, who'd been observing from afar in the back of the
classroom, leaned toward me and explained thatthe enthusi-
asm and freedom of 826 is what keeps her coming back.
She pointed to a student she identified as the quietest in
her class and told me she'd seen her hollering and laughing
throughout the 826 visit.
She looked across the room at the kids, their heads down
in a study of their creative work.
"They're all engaged," Popper said. "This is engaged
learning. That's why I come, right there."
tweets of the week
a week of daily stories
Andy Borowitz 4Borowiz:epor
BREAKING: CBS Sports Reports Joe Biden Has Died
Agent Smith -AxgXv
Higher education is overrated. We're just fine without
it. #TSA #SOTU
We rely on less foreign oil because no one is driving to
work, you idiot!
Michael Ian Black r a. . anhb a Ck
Really wish Obama would grow a soul patch. #sotu
Former Penn State Football coach Joe Pater-
no passed away this past Sunday at the age
of 85. He was the winningest coach in the
history of college football.
The relucta nt role model byoandrew Schulmon
Had 826NYC existed when 826 National CEO Ger- them in private schools in the city or boarding schools in
ald Richards was a boy, Richards might have visited the the northeast, reached out to him.
tutoring center himself. He might've even been like San- As a result of this outreach, Richards enrolled in
tiago, a student at 826 Valencia who told him last year that Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in New York
he aspired to be 826 National's CEO but before graduating from Wesleyan Uni-
has since confessed to being unsure of versity and the School of the Art Insti-
his career path. 7 tute of Chicago.
Instead, Richards, who was raised in It was in Chicago that Richards at
a low-income family in Harlem, never last understood his longtime nick-
strayed from the New York City-public name from friends, "the reluctant
school system before middle school role model." He was sitting in a South
He was gifted, and he read avidly, often Side high school that he had entered
to dislodge himself from the confines through metal detectors, and a few stu-
of his family's limited means. But in dents asked him about his past and his
school, he was habitually bored. plans for the upcoming school break.
"(The public school system) wasn't Richards told them about his jobs,
built to look at students like me, to see his travels and his homes in New York
the differences in students," Richards and Chicago. He told them about the
said. "If you get the kids promoted and visit to London he had planned for the
you got the kids graduating from sixth break.
grade, that was great. That's what you The students, who Richards said
were supposed to do." ofG R reminded him of himself, were puzzled
And so, just as he said the system and silent.
had intended, Richards graduated the sixth grade. "And suddenly they were like, 'You can do things like
But then, Prep for Prep, an education program that that?' he recalled.
seeks out talented students of color in New York to place He said they could.
dreaming of spain
[status update] by jordan rochelson
Are you reading a good book right now?
1 am. am reading "The Girl Who Played with Fire."
I like it a lot.
What was your favorite movie growing up?
"Spinal Tap" has always heen one of my favorites.
The humor in "Spinal Tap," yeah.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where
would it be?
1 would like to go to the southern coast of Spain.
Mainly for the food, and the scenery, and the nice
And how do you like working in the Seigle
Excellent. Everything's good.
A silent rally took place on the corner of S.
State Street and North University Avenue
last Sunday to honor those who've died in
the effort to aid wounded protestors in Syria.
manager of Seigle Cafe at Ross
Wendy Kopp, the founder and CEO of Teach
for America, spoke at the University fast
week. She applauded students for their con-
tinued involvement in the organization.