If you could be anything in the world, what you would be? And why?
Those two questions, to the room full of third-graders, at first prompted a few ponderous head-scratches. Some youngsters squinted at the ceiling. Others rubbed their chins and looked down at their notebooks. But before too long, they put their imaginations – and their pencils – to work.
A wizard. A superhero. A pilot. A rap artist. An actress. A millionaire. Once the young scribes at Civic Nebraska’s Lothrop after-school Community Learning Center got rolling, there was no end to the creative flow.
“Now, don’t forget,” Damion Sayers said over the rising classroom buzz, each of the dozen students under his watchful eye. “The second question. That’s to tell me more about it. Tell me why.”
Active minds and newly sharpened pencils got going again. Soon, pages were filling up with a whole new range of contemplations. After an hour of imagining and writing – plus drawings complementing their words – the students proudly handed Sayers their notebooks, satisfied with the first entries in what by the end of May will be a bound and printed chronicle of their vision.
“Writing can be hard,” third-grader Ronall, 9, said. “But it’s fun.”
Sayers, who owns and operates the neighborhood barbershop Transitions, is a regular contributor to the Lothrop CLC. A childhood literacy advocate, he and others have created the North Omaha Barbershop Books project. Owners stock their shops with children’s books so that when kids or their families come in for a cut, they can open one up to read – or even take a book home if they like.
Sayers said literacy is more than reading, however. That’s why the Visionary Book Writing Project puts Lothrop students in the role of writers – and importantly, of picturing themselves doing big things. Third-graders write each month about a different aspirational topic with themselves at the center of the story.
For example, in March students will imagine themselves as a leader – first as their school’s principal, and then president of the United States.
Near the school year’s end, their collected works will appear in a volume they can share with friends, family, and their community, Sayers said.
“It’s a great way to show kids that they can be published authors, and to show them the process from putting their thoughts down all the way to holding the book in their hands,” Sayers said. “It also gets them thinking about their own experiences and how to use their words to express themselves.”
Parents and family members are encouraged to participate. In April, students will build displays featuring images from magazines, newspaper clippings, and photos of themselves to illustrate how they see their future – or even their present.
“We love to see our students thinking critically about their role in the world, and imagining how they can act to create positive change,” said Equasha Smith-Gooch, Civic Nebraska’s Lothrop CLC site director. “I’m grateful to Damion for being a great connection between the school, the CLC, and the community.
“We’re all excited to see how it will turn out.”