Youth Programs

Writers in the Schools Goes Virtual: Pivoting to the Distance Learning Model

Many changes have been weathered by the Youth Programs team at Literary Arts over the past year. Our team quickly transitioned into new roles in January as Ramiza Koya, our Director of Youth Programs since 2017 (and a celebrated new author), took leave to focus on her health. We experienced a slight delay in rolling out our spring residencies, but bounced back to maintain a filled roster, offering creative writing residencies to seven high schools in Portland and Gresham by February. Then in March, just three days after wonderful schools visits to Many Nations Academy and Madison High School, and a stellar Everybody Reads lecture, by author Tommy Orange, social distancing ordinances forced schools to close campuses across the state.

What began as a two-week closure stretched to one month which subsequently stretched to the rest of the academic year. The decisions by the Oregon Department of Education and Governor Kate Brown to close schools have, no doubt, been incredibly difficult to make. Many of us are worried about how the extended closures will affect our students’ lives, especially those historically underserved, and to what extent this will further widen the existing equity gap in and out of schools.

There are still so many variables and unknowns we are collectively facing as a community—what the next months or years might look like, how we can best take care of one another, and—especially true for our Youth Programs—how we can continue to serve young people in this time. What can Youth Programs at Literary Arts do to fulfill our promise to inspire the next generation of writers and continue to nourish creativity, even from afar?

It’s these questions—paired with a hunger to keep our mission alive and do good by our community partners—that have grounded us as we redesigned our programs and launched virtual initiatives in mere weeks. Access to art for all students remains vital, especially in times that can amplify uncertainty, anxiety, and trauma, and over the past two months, we’ve debuted and implemented Writers in the Schools (WITS): Distance Learning Model which has been informed by the Oregon Department of Education’s Distance Learning for All Guiding Principles as a framework:

  1. Ensure safety and wellness.
  2. Cultivate connection and relationship.
  3. Center in equity and efficacy.
  4. Innovate.

We’ve pivoted to pre-recorded video lessons with closed captions and accompanying handouts to ensure we can continue to reach as many students as possible. Our WITS writers have adapted quickly to taking their teaching artist craft online, and with so much heart. We recognize our students are facing immense challenges and may not have the same capacity to engage in our programs like they have had the opportunity to in the classroom in the past, but our commitment as WITS, and Literary Arts, remains to maintain an open door and direct avenue for writing and creative expression.

“Thank you for working with schools to help students continue to learn and grow during this time.”

Amy Ambrosio, teacher at Roosevelt High School

We’re happy to share a few examples of our work with you all below. We’ll continue to upload public video lessons to our YouTube Channel and hope to engage as many budding writers as we can. Please consider sharing these lessons with a student in your life.

A lesson on odes from WITS writer Laura Moulton

Laura Moulton is is the founder of Street Books, a bicycle-powered mobile library that serves people who live outside in Portland, Oregon. She has taught writing in public schools, prisons, and teen shelters, and is an adjunct professor at Marylhurst University and Lewis & Clark College. Her social art practice projects have involved postal workers, immigrants, prisoners, and students. She earned an MFA from Eastern Washington University.

A mini unit on memoir from WITS writer Brian Benson

Brian Benson is a writer and teacher living in Portland, Oregon. His first book, Going Somewhere (Plume, 2014), was a Powell’s New Favorite and frequent mention on “best of” travel-writing lists. Brian teaches creative nonfiction at Portland’s Attic Institute and facilitates free Write Around Portland workshops in prisons, schools, and affordable housing. He is at work on his second book.


You can purchase your own copy of The Royal Abduls by Ramiza Koya via Powell’s, Broadway Books, or your favorite local bookstore.

For questions about Writers in the Schools or our other youth program, please send an email to Interim Director of Youth Programs, Emilly Prado, at emilly@literary-arts.org or by phone at 503-227-2583 x109.