Creative Writing Class gets New Outlook with Service-Learning Project

Posted on December 17th, 2020 by Matt Bell

A creative writing class led by Dr. Charles Wuest at Averett University virtually partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Danville Area during the fall 2020 semester to create a first-of-its-kind creative writing service-learning project between teenagers in the Danville area and Averett students.

After learning the Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness at Averett was seeking new and innovate partners for service-learning projects, Wuest was excited to team up with Teen Director Chris Chappell and Director of Programs and Operations Lashawn Farmer at the Boys and Girls Club for the project.

“Writing is very important, and our teens had been talking about it. They’re always on board with things that help them think outside the box,” Chappell said.

Wuest, assistant professor of English and director of Averett’s Honors Program, said the class was intended to have students think beyond the scope of collegiate-level writing and to think about it from different perspectives.

“With college students trying to get grades, we removed them from that context. Having them in another setting helps them to think differently,” Wuest said. About 10 students participated in the service-learning project.

Boys and Girls ClubIn addition to  a fresh perspective, Chappell said it helped his teens at the Boys and Girls Club to set goals for themselves and make certain changes in their own lives.

“It helped them reach for higher education and think about their lives differently,” Chappell said. “One student wanted to be an attorney, and because of the creative writing class now wants to be a writer. Some of the students have continued writing in different ways. Some are working on their vocabulary and are reading more, while others are working on their rapping careers.”

Each week, the students would receive a prompt via Zoom.

“Students were paired off into breakout rooms, and then we would all come back and talk about what we had written,” Wuest said.

One of prompts was a collaboration on “I wish…,” and was meant to be more of an icebreaker but ultimately left lasting effects on Chappell, Wuest and all of the students that they will always remember.

“It would start as jokes, and in a matter of seconds it would get real [serious]. It was a great way to learn more about my students,” Chappell said, and Wuest agreed.

The “I wish…” answers were broad – everything from wishing for a million dollars to desires for more time with friends or for a mother to spend more time at home instead of at their place of work. Students entered what they wished for in the chat box in Zoom for all to see. The answers were collected to create a poem.

After the service-learning project ended, Wuest said his students thought the experience was eye-opening. Chappell said his students are ready to collaborate with Averett again.

“One student said after the project concluded that the sessions helped make it easier to come up with answers because they were all nervous and feeling the same things,” Wuest said. “I wanted them to come out of this with an understanding that there’s not just one way to go about things, just as in life. There are so many other ways to accomplish something.”

He plans to teach another creative writing class during the fall 2021 semester and partner again with the Boys and Girls Club.

Read all the poems from the service-learning project here:

I Used To Be
I Wish
Animals Are Doing Human Things
Comparing Feelings