Upper school English teacher Ben Christian and his fellow English teachers were looking for a writing project to challenge students during the two days prior to Thanksgiving. During this time, students are finishing other projects and novels, and it is difficult to start a new unit or assign any reading over the break.
“Writing doesn’t have to be just a traditional analytic essay,” Ben said. “So, we came up with Upper Story to give students a chance to write something they’d have more freedom with.”
The goal of the event is to give students an opportunity to write their own pieces, and by the time they graduate from Pembroke Hill, they will have written four unique personal narratives.
“Our hope is, by the time they leave PHS, they can see their progression as a writer and that it fosters an interest in narratives and language that carries on throughout their life,” Ben said.
Students on the first day were given prompts on the third floor of Jordan Hall on the subject “The Unexpected.” Food and beverages were brought in to give it a “coffee shop” reading feel.
Students were then welcome to wander around the floor, to think, and to write about the topic or anything that inspired them.
“We decided on personal narratives because it was a way for students to share stories that have stuck with them and had some meaning for them,” Ben said. “The cool part in this process was that we weren’t sure how it was going to happen or turn out. We were surprised at how positively the students responded.”
During the second day, a presentation area was set up in the third floor alcove, where students and faculty presented their pieces to whomever stopped by or had English class for that period. Each session brought something different: poetry, monologues, short stories, even playing songs they’d written themselves.
Additionally, English department faculty took part in the writing event--sharing their own original work. “It was a team effort,” Ben said. “There’s no way this event happens without them and everyone being committed to it.”
Ben explained it was important for faculty members to take part in the activity to show students they are true believers in what they teach day in and day out, and for students to see them as human beings who have lives outside of Pembroke.
There was positive feedback from administration, faculty and students about continuing the program next year.
Ben said. “I think it’s something we can make a tradition, and in future years, have more and more students who take a chance and share their work with others. Our department hopes that the third floor is a place where students can, at least in part, be their true selves, and we are working hard to make that happen.”