When John Colasacco, Professional Writing Instructor and Writing Consultant, walks into Danforth Middle School each week, he knows that the next couple of hours will be noisy and even at times chaotic. But he says that’s an important part of the workshops that he facilitates for the middle-schoolers in his role as the SU Writing Center Community Consultant.
The Community Consultant initiative, which began in Fall 2008, is now in its third year. What began as a one-time workshop with Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection has become the Writing Center’s formalized commitment to the community partnerships that are a long-standing tradition in the Writing Program, says Writing Center Administrator Jason Luther. In the inaugural year of the initiative, Professional Writing Consultant Emily Luther worked with students to produce a podcast based on a lecture by poet and award-winning author Nikki Grimes.
Colasacco, now in his second year in the position, has focused on inspiring creativity in students. Alongside Twan Escho and Sean Dillard, two Hillside Youth Advocates, Colasacco encourages students to move beyond imitation, asking them to be subjective and come up with their own ideas. To achieve this, students write in response to topics like originality, realism and surrealism, and a number of other prompts—lessons that Colasacco says will help them start “exercising the muscles” that they will need to strengthen as they progress academically.
Though Colasacco believes that encouraging students to write and think in this way has intellectual benefits in and of itself, he says that sharing one’s work with others is an important part of the workshops as well. Thus, in every session students are asked to read their work aloud, and these performances are often the part that they enjoy most. In spring 2010, with funding from the Writing Program, Colasacco also helped his students see their work published in an anthology, which is on display in the Writing Center.
Colasacco says that part of his work is to teach students to embrace uncertainty, and he encourages them to get into a zone, figure out their own creative process, and find their own way—even though that sometimes results in chaotic moments in which different students are writing, talking, reading, thinking, and eating pizza at the same time. Colasacco encourages moments like these: “It’s not really that there’s chaos,” he explains. “Gertrude Stein said that the essence of being a genius is to be able to listen while talking and talk while listening. What looks like chaos is just us working on that.”