Archive for the ‘KIPP STRIVE’ Category

Middle school writing program looking for mentors

Written on January 3, 2018 at 11:22 am, by Melissa Swindell

Written for the Atlanta Writers Club

by Ralph Ellis

“I don’t really remember much about my mom.” That’s the beginning of Amien Hicks’ short story – and I think it’s a grabber. Amien is a student at KIPP STRIVE Academy in Atlanta. I was his mentor last spring in a writing program called Scribes.

Fourteen middle school students wrote short pieces of historical fiction on inventors of color, and Amien was assigned George Washington Carver. He started with Carver’s childhood, when slave raiders stole his mother, and moved through his struggles to obtain an education. Carver overcame racism at every step to become an inventor, college professor, and the most famous African-American of his time. Other Scribes wrote about Garrett Morgan, inventor of the traffic signal, and Charles Drew, who pioneered methods for storing blood plasma for transfusion.

This was the fifth student I’ve mentored, and every time has been an eye opener. Not all the stories are historical fiction. With an agriculture theme, my Scribe wrote about a budding peach tree that blossomed despite being bullied by other trees. When the subject was Atlanta institutions, my student wrote about a CNN reporter who turns back an alien attack on New York City. Yes, their imaginations know no limits.

The Wren’s Nest, the Joel Chandler Harris residence that’s now a museum in West End Atlanta, created and sponsors the Scribes program. Harris, author of the Uncle Remus tales, lived in the Queen Anne style home until his death in 1908.

The mentoring program pairs writing professionals, or adults who simply love to write, with middle school students. The mentor spends around an hour a week for a dozen weeks working with the student in a writing lab at KIPP STRIVE Academy or Brown Middle School – both Atlanta public schools in West End. Mentors have been teachers, journalists, college students majoring in English or journalism, social media managers for corporations and public broadcast writers.

How deeply involved does a mentor become? That depends on the student. Kalin Thomas, the program director, provides daily goals for each session, so nobody goes off track. My last Scribe is a confident writer, so mainly I helped with the online research and made minor grammar fixes. Some of my other charges procrastinated, tried to play computer games or agonized over every phrase. Sound familiar? Mentors see a lot of themselves in these young writers.

A few months after my mentoring duties ended, I saw Amien again at the Decatur Book Festival. The Scribes’ stories had been bound together into a softcover book titled “Bright Ideas,” and a launch party was held in a hotel ballroom. The Scribes sat down at a long table and their parents and friends lined up to get books autographed. These middle school students had achieved something special. They were published authors. It was a proud moment for the Scribes – and for me. Being a mentor is not without sacrifice, and not every student is easy. But every session has been gratifying. The Wren’s Nest always needs mentors, so if you’re interested, contact Kalin Thomas here. If you’d like to hear more about my experiences, send a message to

Written on July 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm, by Jessie

The Second Annual Vouched Birthday Party was a smashing success!


VouchedATL celebrated its second birthday with the return of the Very Vouched Birthday on Thursday, July 18th at The Goat Farm Arts Center.

Once again, the evening served as a fundraiser for the Wren’s Nest KIPP Scribes writing program. A great number of Atlanta’s literary champions gathered for an evening to read the work of the students who have benefitted from the program. In addition to these readings, attendees heard original works from authors Blake Butler and Matt Bell.

Several of our middle school authors were there with their families. As it turned out, all of the young authors who attended also happened to have their stories read out loud. Seeing the students watch their stories come alive on stage was an incredible experience.

The proceeds from the evening all go towards supporting the Scribes Program. We are so grateful to Laura Relyea of Vouched Books, the event’s supporters, and everyone who attended the party. Here’s a picture of our fancy merch table and a sampling of the books we’ve published through our Scribes Program and high school publishing company.





KIPP Scribes Book Launch

Written on September 4, 2012 at 8:11 pm, by Jessie

We don’t mean to brag, but it’s safe to say that our KIPP Scribes book launch was a smashing success.  There is nothing quite like seeing these students hold their books for the very first time, or hearing them read their stories to an enraptured audience. Little did we know, the Scribes are not only writers; they are also phenomenal readers. Check out a few preview pictures, thanks to the lovely Erin Sintos of Tin Can Photography, who captured the day through her lens.

If you weren’t able to attend the party, do not lament! You can buy your very own copy in the Wren’s Nest shop. Our new Wren’s Nest Publishing Company high school literary journal is also available in our shop now.  It’s all so exciting. Just so exciting.

Our student authors and editors are fancy

Written on August 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm, by Jessie

Hear ye! Hear ye! Books are a-brewin’!

The Decatur Book Festival is just around the corner, which means it’s almost time for the launch of our new KIPP Scribes book and Wren’s Nest Publishing Company Literary Journal. Below are details about each of the book launch parties. You’ll come if you know what’s good for you!

This year, the KIPP Scribes program took a new spin. Instead of recording a true story from an important adult in each of their lives, the students wrote historical fiction stories based in Atlanta. The KIPP Scribes crafted the stories with the help of their mentors and will release their book, Read After Burning, at Decatur Book Festival on Sunday, September 2 from 2:30 p.m.- 4:30 p.m. at CORE Studio (133 Sycamore Street Decatur, GA 30030). The book launch will feature readings from the KIPP Scribes and their mentors, as well as a chance to purchase your own copy signed by the authors.


The Wren’s Nest Publishing Company’s sixth annual literary journal, Flyaways, comprised pieces by Atlanta-area high school students. On Saturday, September 1, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m at CORE Studio (133 Sycamore Street Decatur, GA 30030), the student editors and contributors and their friends and family members will join to mingle, congratulate each other, and exult in their accomplishments with lemonade, popsicles, games, and coloring. Pull out your inner child and come share in the revelry!

If you can’t come to our parties, go cry in corner, then show your support  another way :

Buy a copy of each book in our online bookstore. Books will be available for purchase on September 8th. Huzzah!

Tell someone about our writing programs. We will begin accepting mentors for next spring’s KIPP Scribes program in October.  Email Jessie at for more info. She likes getting emails out of left field.

PS: Please come visit us at the Decatur Book Festival. The Wren’s Nest booth is #612, on Clairmont right off Ponce across from the Old Courthouse. This year we’re sharing our booth with Vouched Atlanta. Come by and see us!

Volunteers Needed to Mentor the KIPP Scribes for a New Book

Written on January 5, 2011 at 12:19 pm, by Melissa Swindell

Are you a writer of some sort? Would you like to help a 5th or 6th grader become a published author? Do you know someone who would?

The Wren’s Nest is helping the KIPP Scribes record family stories for a new book, and we need your help.

Here’s how it works:

Once a week starting in February, you’ll meet 1-on-1 with a 5th grader at KIPP STRIVE Academy to help identify, record, and craft an important family story. It will look something like this:

Carleigh and D'Mecia writing Don't Forget That Day by the KIPP Scribes at KIPP STRIVE in Atlanta, Georgia for the Wren's Nest

Then, we’ll compile the stories together for a handsome publication. Finally, we’ll all have a party for the book’s debut at the Decatur Book Festival.

Sounds like fun, right? We need 30 of you, so don’t be shy.

Here’s what you need to do to help:

1. Attend an orientation session later this month.
2. Commit to 15 hours of service over a three month period.
3. Be available on Tuesdays between 3 and 4 pm.
4. Have some sort of writing experience. You needn’t be Tolstoy, mind you. If you think you may qualify, chances are you probably do. Last year we welcomed writers, lawyers, teachers, and workaday folks like me.

Sign up by emailing Amber (, our spectacular Program Director, before January 25th. That’s real soon! Do you have questions? Amber can answer those too.

Need more convincing?

We had a blast making last year’s book Don’t Forget That Day. Look no further than the launch party photos.

If you must look further, see, for example, Brooke saying nice things about last year’s program. Or Kimberly doing the same. Or Jamie, who chronicled his experience specifically for your benefit.

Even if this program isn’t for you, I bet you know someone who would love it. And chances are, they are totally clueless. Please forward this post along if you’d be so kind.

Photos from the Launch of Don’t Forget That Day

Written on September 25, 2010 at 12:04 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

Check out the pictures from the launch party for Don’t Forget That Day. As usual, Jason Travis did a real bang-up job.

Don’t Forget That Day is available here online or at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur.

Thanks to the Kim King Foundation for funding our little project! Now that we’ve all had our naps, I’m ready to say it — maybe we should do it again next year!

Don’t Forget That Day Debuts Saturday, September 4th — Join Us!

Written on August 18, 2010 at 4:36 pm, by Amelia

Big news: our first collaboration with the students of KIPP STRIVE Academy (aka the KIPP Scribes!) is officially off to the printers.  It’s really happening!

(The lovely cover, designed by none other than Lauren Lee at Lampe-Farley.)

For three months in the Spring and a little bit in the Summer, 17 generous professional writers donated their time to help improve the writing skills of 17 5th graders at our neighborhood charter school. Each student learned how to craft a story from a family member.

The resulting book of stories, Don’t Forget That Day, will debut to fanfare, trumpets, and fireworks* at the Decatur Book Festival this Labor Day Weekend. Pretty neat, right?

Neater still: we want you to be a part of it.  This entire process has been the result of collaboration and it would be silly to celebrate without everyone who helped us make this happen. That means you, internet friends.

We’ll be hosting a book launch party Saturday, September 4th from 11am – 12pm at Several Dancers Core on the Decatur Square.  You’re invited, as are your friends and anyone y’all want to impress.  There will be treats, excitement, and good vibes.  We can’t wait.

(A glimpse of the interior.  Stunning, no?)

And while this is a big deal to us, it is a HUGE deal to the students.  Please help us make this their special day.  The more folks there to revel in their awesome accomplishment, the better.  (Plus, this will likely be one of the last times they’ll be able to talk to their fans without being swarmed, so it behooves you to take advantage.)

We hope to see you there!  Any questions about the event?  Let us know in the comments. Thanks again to the Kim King Foundation for making this all possible.

Previously: Call for KIPP STRIVE Volunteers, The Program Begins, Halftime Report

*1/3 true.

Modern Family Depicts Our KIPP STRIVE Project

Written on May 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm, by Amelia

Did y’all see Modern Family last night?

The story-line where Luke interviews Al Bundy (I suspect) totally mirrors the interview process of our KIPPsters and their respective Al Bundys.

Why, these are exactly the kind of stories we’re trying to preserve!

This old clip — my Dad’s favorite from That ’70s Show — may also provide a glimpse into the challenges of our KIPPsters’ interviews, especially the succinct way Kelso sums up his dad’s experiences.

YouTube Preview Image

Both clips serves as great lessons in Why We Have Adults Checking Things Over And, As A Result, Often Saying Things Like “This might be made up.” Hooray!

KIPP STRIVE Halftime Report

Written on May 19, 2010 at 11:35 am, by Amelia

Our (still unnamed; any ideas, people?) writing program with KIPP STRIVE Academy has progressed swimmingly.

While we’re taking a break right now (that pesky school schedule is really putting a damper on things), the students have conducted their interviews, written their accounts, and are currently polishing their second drafts.

We can’t show you any of their work yet, but we were lucky enough to have our (talented photographer) friend Ajay Pillarisetti document our last meeting.

This is Amanda and her student, Misha.  Amanda is the senior editor of Atlanta Magazine and the meanest person I know.  Can’t you just see it in her eyes?

Here KIPPster Rani is telling his partner, Jon, to focus on the work at hand. Jon is probably talking about birds again.

I can’t say anything glib here — I love this photo too much.  Way to be my kryptonite, Naima and Kimberly.

Matt and his partner, Mohammed, compare notes on how awesome the Kim King Foundation is for sponsoring this project.  Well, maybe they’re talking about Mohammed’s story, but probably not.

We won’t meet again with the students until July.  In the meantime Lain and I will be working on the nuts and bolts of the publication.  We’ve been so encouraged so far, by both our volunteers and students (and especially the KIPP STRIVE staff), it’s hard to have to wait so many weeks to meet again.

While we’re waiting, what should we call this program?  Ideas that have been bandied about:

Gumshoes, Shoo Flys, Raconteurs, Correspondents, Fabulists, Bird Dogs, any combination of anything.

KIPP STRIVE and the Wren’s Nest — The Fun Has Begun

Written on April 14, 2010 at 4:15 pm, by Amelia

Yesterday was the very first day of the new writing program we’re doing with KIPP STRIVE Academy, and dare I say it went beautifully.  But before I get into that, some details to fill you in about what’s happened since we first introduced the program.

• We’re lucky enough to have friends in some high (internet) places, so the word spread quickly about the opportunity.  (See: phew!)  We’ve ended up with 16 volunteers to pair with 16 fifth grade students.

• Most volunteers are writers by profession, with a huge variety of specialties represented.  Journalists, novelists, legal writers, jacks-of-all-trades — you name it, we’ve got it.

• We had a couple of orientation sessions to meet the KIPP STRIVE staff members (Hi John!  Hi Ed!) we’ll be working with and to answer questions about the program.  Since Lain and I were involved, beer was served.

• Oh, and most importantly, the Kim King Foundation has graciously funded our entire project.  How cool is that?

Which brings us to yesterday.  The writers arrived at KIPP STRIVE — located at the old J. C. Harris Elementary building, fittingly enough — excited and confused about how to enter the building.

The answer to that question was, for the record, “through the door.”

Once we got over that hurdle, everyone received their space-age visitor pass and hopped over to meet the students.

For the tenure of the program, each adult/mentor/volunteer (still working on the language there) will be paired up with a student, and through these partnerships a beautiful story will emerge.  Or at least a story with correct grammar.  Needless to say, meeting partners was a big deal.

And y’all, boy howdy are the KIPP STRIVE kids awesome.  We had been reassured all the students would be enthusiastic, well-behaved, and eager to write, but “charming as all get up” totally should have been included.

At least one of our volunteers was pleased with the experience:

We did some little getting-to-know-you activities as documented by volunteer Jamie over at Chronicle’s blog.  Among other things, we found out that one student’s nickname is “Chalupa” and that the song “TiK ToK” by Ke$ha had few supporters in the room.

All in all, a successful meet-and-greet.  Nobody cried, and I don’t think there was one disappointed person on either side (though feel free to correct me, dream-crushers).

So yay!  Hopefully this means that I won’t spend next Tuesday with so much nervous energy I can’t pick up the phone on the first try.  No promises, though.

And, of course, thank you so much to all of our volunteers — we very literally could not do it without you.