J.B. Blackford

Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.

Students in Print: 826 National Cultivates Creative Writing

Writing is important because it’s a way to communicate.

It’s important because it’s a way to express yourself.

It’s important because — even in the digital age — we need it. Email, social media, professional and academic interactions still require us to translate our thoughts to written form. 

I’ve both heard and said it all, preaching sometimes to the choir and sometimes to students who alternately listen and put their heads down on their desks and sleep.

826  National — a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco — is saying the same thing, but in a way that students are hearing it. 

Writing and tutoring centers offer “under-resourced students, ages 6-18 with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills” — but it’s the variety of activities, the resourceful funding, and prolific output of student writing that is truly remarkable.

Founded in 2002 by Dave Eggars and Nínive Calegari, 826 National has as many numbers to back itself up as it does words: 

6 Programs offered: After-School Tutoring, Field Trips, In-Schools Projects, Young Authors’ Publishing Project, Workshops, and Scholarships

8 — Chapters in the USBoston; Chicago, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; Ann Arbor; New York City; Seattle; and San Francisco 

8 Uniquely themed retail stores that will enthrall children  and adults alike, including Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair


86 Percentage of students who felt more confident in their writing after working with volunteers

98 — Percentage of parents whose children earned improved grades after 826 National tutoring

944 — Number of teachers served in 2011-12

31,000+ — Number of students served in 2011-12                                                        

5344505386_18e0912d96_mOne figure that I didn’t compile is the total number of student publications put out by each chapter of the organization. In addition to invigorating and engaging students, 826 National honors creativity and achievement by publishing its students’ work; the retail and online stores for each chapter offer the opportunity to support 826 National by purchasing the works of their neophyte authors. Two of my favorite productions were letters for President Obama and the First Lady published by McSweeney’s. (I hope that letter-writing never completely disappears.) Each storefront also offers its own array of theme-specific apparel, toys, gadgets, posters, baubles, and miscellaneous silly accoutrements to add to the funds raised from selling students’ books. Of course, donations and volunteers are also always welcome.

I find that simply knowing that this organization exists is heartening. Discovering that it is a boon to students, teachers, and parents alike is thrilling. Knowing that it refuses to relent in the face of people saying that writing doesn’t matter, creativity isn’t important, is exhilarating. 

So I only have two more questions:

When is the Pittsburgh chapter opening, and what theme will our store have?


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