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2022 Grants Challenge

Students Write the Future

Idea by 826LA

No one is better equipped to tell the stories of Los Angeles youth than young people themselves. But too many of them aren’t given that opportunity. That’s why 826LA provides free writing and tutoring programs for students who attend under-resourced schools. Working one-on-one with caring volunteers, students hone their voices, improve their academics, work on college application essays, follow their imaginations, and even publish books with 826LA’s support.

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What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

K-12 STEAM Education

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

Central LA

East LA

South LA

West LA

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

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Approximately 85% of the 484,000 students in LAUSD are classified as economically disadvantaged. Compounding issues of systematic racism, underfunding, and centuries of marginalization have resulted in LA’s current educational landscape, where these students are only half as likely to meet or exceed English Language Arts assessments as their wealthier peers. 826LA’s work to fill educational opportunity gaps became harder when COVID-19 struck. It also became more critical. The LA Times reported that nearly half of LAUSD students have been chronically absent in 2021-2022, and fewer than 1 in 10 students engaged in tutoring, despite its proven efficacy. The LA Times also reported that “more than a third of students didn’t have an appropriate and quiet place at home to study or participate in online learning.” During the safer-at-home stage of the pandemic, the gap in grades between Latinx and Black students, compared to their Asian and White counterparts, grew by as much as 21%.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

826LA offers a solution to student disengagement and inadequate spaces for learning by operating writing centers in Echo Park and Mar Vista. Thousands of students engage in one-on-one or small group tutoring and other educational programs. We also operate three Writers’ Rooms embedded in schools (Roosevelt, Manual Arts, and Venice High School) to offer students and teachers additional writing support. The students who participate in our programs attend Title I schools. More than 92% are BIPOC, 84% are low-income, and 21% are identified as English Language Learners. Programs include: Tutoring: Led by 826LA staff, volunteers provide one-on-one homework support, to help students navigate all subject areas and types of homework. Workshops: We offer a six-week journalism workshop and numerous single-session workshops. Each summer, we offer an intensive five-day writing workshop for teens. Field Trips: Classes join us virtually and in person for field trips on topics including Storytelling & Bookmaking, Memoir, and Personal Statement Writing. In-Schools, Writers’ Rooms, and College Access: 826LA’s in-schools programs help students write impactful personal statements. We also support classroom-based writing projects, such as the creation of an annual Ethnic Studies book. In FY2021, 826LA served 2,593 students, working with 85 teachers at 120 schools in Los Angeles. This year, we are on track to serve 3,000 students working with 100 teachers at 130 schools in Los Angeles.

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

Students who participate in 826LA’s programs will strengthen their writing skills, improve academically, and build confidence. During the grant period, we will expand our proven model by providing free writing and tutoring programs to more than 6,000 students. We will diversify our programs with the launch of Project 553, which will bring our services to more than 500 Black and African American students. We will also incorporate mental wellness practices into our work to address the youth mental health crisis. In the long term, young people who are able to express themselves in writing fare better in college (Picou, Learning Lab Agency, 2020) and have lifelong access to a valuable, healthy tool for processing the world around them (Ruini and Mortara, Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 2021). Students who thrive academically are more likely to succeed in college and find better paying jobs—that includes jobs in creative industries such as screenwriting, media, and publishing.

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

Since opening our doors in 2005, 826LA has supported more than 100,000 students via free writing programs that we have refined based on feedback from teachers, families, volunteers, and students themselves. We survey these stakeholders annually and after key events, such as our Great Los Angeles Personal Statement Weekend, to gauge the efficacy and impact of our work. According to survey results from the 2020-2021 school year: 100% of our partner teachers say 826LA’s programs engage students; 100% of students made significant progress on personal statements for college with 826LA’s help; 95% of parents say their students are getting better grades with 826LA’s support; and 90% of students say 826LA makes writing fun. The 826 National Network uses the Analytic Writing Continuum (AWC) to evaluate students’ writing improvement. Last year, students across the network saw a 6% improvement. Post pandemic, 826LA will administer AWC locally to measure the specific impacts of our program.

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

Direct Impact: 6,000

Indirect Impact: 150