Where The Sidewalk Extends: WordPlay, Hughes, UC Collaborative

Hughes STEM High School and the University of Cincinnati are separated by only a four lane street, Clifton Avenue. Every weekday as the Hughes school day ends, khaki pants, black polo shirts, and full backpacks flood one sidewalk while UC students tread to campus on another. The institutions share more than the postal street name— they are joined by high standards of education and filled with students who are eager to learn. The solution to remove the small barrier between the worlds is clear: cross the street.

There is a new collaboration between WordPlay, Hughes, and UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services (CECH). Funded by the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant, the program funnels volunteers from distinct fields into weekly experiential learning sessions.

This is not just another after school program. Part workshop, part active discussion, part creative exploration, the program is fueled by the students who continue to discover and hone unique positions in both their school and community.

Kathie Maynard, Assistant Dean for Community Partnerships at CECH has long been familiar with WordPlay’s unique approach to creative literacy and invited WordPlay into the innovative collaboration. Mona Jenkins, a long-time WordPlay volunteer and graduate student in Education with a focus on Social Change is serving as the WordUP Program Coordinator at Hughes. The Center for Community Engagement at UC also plays a vital role in the new partnership, garnering UC student participation and other campus resources.

There is a strong precedent of partnership between UC and Hughes, two campuses that are closely connected in purpose and location. Still, some Hughes students do not look past those four short lanes to envision themselves attending the neighboring university.

At the first meeting, 29 students turned out to learn more. WordPlay Director Libby Hunter posed a question to the full room: How many of you have college as part of your plan after graduation?

Only four students raised their hands.

WordUP is a bright crosswalk to further encourage Hughes students to take the steps toward the growing university. Students are met by volunteers at Hughes and walk across those four lanes to the UC campus. Each week, they sit in the very rooms that they may one day return to as collegiates and explore how their education can branch toward a variety of fields. The students participating in WordUP capitalize on WordPlay’s creative writing and self-empowerment focus, while other Hughes teens are diving into the other after-school offerings made possible by the 21st Century grant collaboration. Subjects ranging from applied math skills to fashion design to leadership round out the new opportunities. This variety helps fulfill the goal of the grant: to equip students with relevant skills while fostering self expression, confidence, emotional intelligence and community engagement between the University, the high school and WordPlay as community partner.

The WordUP program at Hughes follows the successful model of a collaboration between WordPlay and Aiken New Tech High School, which began 3 years ago. Since its inaugural meeting at the WordPlay writing center in the fall of 2012, the continued success of the Aiken program provides the push for WordUP to expand multidirectionally. Collectively, the new after-school programs at Hughes focus heavily on self-motivated learning.

Alisha Budkie, organizer of Second Sunday on Main, volunteers for WordPlay’s Aiken WordUP program, and directly experiences how the program teaches students to teach themselves.

“I’m inspired by the students,” she says. “They are thoughtful and supportive of each other, and looking for growth. So much of the program is lead by the student's’ depth and awareness.”

The expansion of the WordUp program follows WordPlay’s trend of reaching far beyond the Northside neighborhood. While the original mission of the center organization to serve at-risk children and youth remains, the applications are increasingly diverse and far-reaching.

Throughout the year, students will participate in field trips to universities and other educational experiences, and will work with WordPlay staff to design a culminating creative experience around this year’s theme, social justice. At the end of the year they will showcase their work on an open platform, and invite the community to engage with and celebrate the students’ growth.

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