Five years ago, fresh out of college, I taught my first creative writing workshop in a Baltimore school. That very first day—nervous, young, worried that the kids would see through my lack of expertise—I met a child who lived to write. The seventh grader, Terrell Kellam, handed me two stories: one set on a haunted road in Ancient China, the other set on an urban basketball court. While the stories took place on opposite sides of the globe, they had much in common: I forgot I was reading. The stories transported me from the page into well-rendered worlds. Then Terrell sent me home with his novel. I stayed up late, immersed a fantastical world, and grew intimidated that I was tasked to teach this kid writing.
Terrell says: WBS has helped me open up and appreciate writing more. As a student in WBS, I have been able to write freely without having to think about relating it to school. I’ve learned what I can and cannot do as a writer. This new understanding is what separates children who have fun doing writing exercises from students who work to perfect the craft.
Meeting Terrell became a defining moment for Writers in Baltimore Schools. Our work together helped me conceptualize an organization that followed these talented, young writers beyond our initial workshops, continuing to offer them programs throughout high school. Five years later, Terrell is still involved with WBS and is continuously helping me refine my understanding of how to serve Baltimore’s youngest writers. Most recently, I’ve learned the importance of turning your students into teachers.
After five years with WBS, Terrell returned to our second annual Summer Writer’s Studio as a junior counselor. Having just attended the prestigious Kenyon Review Young Writers’ Workshop on a full scholarship, Terrell arrive at camp full of ideas. He designed and led our morning writing warm-ups. He pushed our young writers through draft after draft of stories, assuring them a better version lay ahead, earning the nickname “the story whisperer.”
In Terrell’s words: As a junior counselor, I was able to use my mind—which WBS has helped become more inspired, intelligent, and imaginative—to help mold the minds of other aspiring writers. At the same time, I remain a student and continue to learn.
Our youth teach two-fold: first they instruct us, informing our programs, and then they grow into teachers themselves, serving the new crop of youth. At Writers in Baltimore Schools, hiring Terrell as a junior counselor is the first step. I plan to engage our high school-aged alumni as junior instructors in school-year workshops and have them take lead of our publications. I challenge youth organizations across Baltimore to consider how they too can engage students along the way and later employ their alumni.