2021 Grants Challenge

Writing in the Schools (WITS) and WITS Headquarters (WITS HQ)

In WITS, published poets visit LA Title I schools and teach students the art of writing poetry. At the end of the school year, one poem from each student is printed in a professionally bound anthology, theirs to keep at no charge. WITS will enable 600 young students to channel their inner Amanda Gorman and come to an after-school program at Red Hen Press’s workshop space (WITS HQ) to study, unwind, and learn about writing, books, and the publishing industry in academic year 2022–2023.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

Central LA

San Gabriel Valley

San Fernando Valley

South LA


What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

WITS was founded in 2003 out of Red Hen Press Editor Dr. Kate Gale’s experience with parenting. A single mother of two kids, she was surprised to learn that there was practically no arts instruction in Title I schools, and high school graduation rates were at 72.5% (per LAUSD). Fortunately, her neighborhood's public school had a magnet arts program. When Gale realized the only thing anchoring her son in school was the theater class he loved, she determined that Red Hen had to make it part of its mission to get arts into Title I schools. After WITS’s first year, school teachers told Gale, “These kids have gotten a taste of achievement. They’ll never drop out now.” Says Gale, “Every child that gets excited because of that book they carry around with their own work printed in it, that’s success.” According to the CA Arts Education Data Project, in 2018, graduation rates were up to 81.8%. WITS will continue to inspire young minds until every LA child excels in and finishes school.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

WITS places published poets in classrooms to work with predominantly underserved students for one hour a week for six weeks. Students are exposed to poetry not offered in standard curricula, gain an understanding of different poetic forms, and express themselves by writing poetry of their own. Each student submits a polished poem, which is published in a professionally bound anthology, theirs to take home at no cost. Red Hen created WITS poetry textbooks, which students also keep. School teachers coordinate lesson plans with the WITS workshops to provide continuity throughout the semester. In this way, the WITS program is woven into students’ overall education and becomes more than an extracurricular activity. Students benefit by working with professional poets, being encouraged to express themselves while learning college-level English language skills, and experiencing the joy and sense of achievement that comes with having one’s work published. Red Hen Press is uniquely positioned to offer such a program, having a diverse range of poets eager to share their craft. WITS HQ will be an after-school program for high school students to visit Red Hen’s workshop space for a quiet and safe place to study, write, and explore the publishing industry. Participating youth will receive tutoring and engage in community service, field trips, and enrichment activities. WITS HQ will also host open mic nights and student book clubs (books provided at no cost)!

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 620

Indirect Impact: 2,000

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

In the 2019–2020, WITS served 244 students from LA Title I schools (300 are projected for 20–21), serving a majority Latinx population. Bringing authors into classrooms opens the door to the arts and literature for kids. A grant of this size would enable the hiring of a new staff position fully devoted to WITS; the increase in workshops to 12 per year in 10 schools, reaching approximately 600 students annually; the purchase of additional textbooks; and increased instructing artist stipends (internationally renowned authors Doug Kearney and Chris Abani taught for WITS, and we continue to have high quality WITS instructors). The grant would also help implement WITS HQ with additional necessary equipment, increasing academic achievement as well as knowledge of career and life choice potentials, community issues, and civil rights. Youth will be provided a safe space to build self-esteem and mature intellectually and socially.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

WITS teachers, school teachers, and students are polled through pre- and post-workshop surveys. Student evaluations include quantifiable questions about confidence in writing and public speaking, understanding of vocabulary, and interest in poetry, in addition to short answers about teacher effectiveness, etc. Teacher surveys include short answer questions about student performance, the relationship between workshops and the curriculum, and the effectiveness of the WITS teacher to encourage CA State Educational Standards. Comments include: “descriptive language use has flourished, and is evident in their classroom writing,” “confidence in writing has soared,” and “thank you for opening the world of creative writing. They will never forget this experience.” Of students surveyed, 69% felt more comfortable in a classroom environment, 70% developed an interest in writing poetry, and 77% of students reported improvement in their writing ability after participating in WITS.

Which of the LEARN metrics will you impact?​

Arts education

High school graduation rates

Student proficiency in English & Language Arts