2015 Bezos Scholar Ciara Mulcahy and educator Diane Casola founded a City Scribes to empower middle school students through journalistic writing.
While talking with Jane Chu, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, at Aspen Ideas Festival, Ciara realized that her passion for journalism and creative writing stemmed from participating in a writing program during her middle school years. This propelled Ciara into a role on her high school newspaper’s staff. Since Ciara’s time in middle school, the writing program had been cut due to budget decreases. Ciara and Diane decided to leverage their Local Ideas Festival, City Scribes, to empower middle school students to write about their experiences in Roanoke, VA.
Over the course of the academic year, City Scribes team members from the high school served as coaches to middle school students in various aspects of journalistic writing and helping younger students to express their experiences in Roanoke through this medium. City Scribes also coordinated with local writers and authors to provide poetry, writing, and literacy lessons for each of the five participating middle schools. The program culminated in an event featuring local authors and showcased participants’ work. The culminating celebration included poetry, blackout writing, bookbinding, comic writing and illustration, lyrical performances, calligraphy, insights into self-publishing, along with talks from local authors Rod Belcher, Beth Macy, and Liz Long.
“I was shocked by the magnitude of realities our middle school participants revealed through their writing,” remarks Ciara. “In starting City Scribes, I thought I was addressing literacy and education. However, in attending several of the middle school meetings, I realized that this program model achieved more for our participants than correct syntax and clarity of communication. At each of the schools, our City Scribes team members became role models for the middle school participants.”
City Scribes has continued to empower middle school students through writing and is now in its third year, led by Madison Duval and Bea Schleupner. Middle school students meet biweekly with their high school mentors in an after-school writing enrichment program to enhance their journalists and creative writing skills.