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Notes from the HVWC: Bringing Writing to LIFE

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by Joan Potter

Joan Potter and children in her workshop.
Joan Potter and children in her workshop.

It was the first day of my fourth-grade writing workshop at the RSHM Life Center in Sleepy Hollow. The mission of the Center, which is directed by Sister Susan Gardella, is to serve the needy. Among its many services is an after-school program, in which I participated. I was told that most of the 22 boys and girls in my workshop come from Spanish-speaking homes; I would be teaching two groups of 11 each.

This would be a new experience for all of us. I began teaching memoir at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center in 1998, and I’ve also taught in other places. My students were always adults. But when the Writers’ Center asked if I’d like to teach fourth-graders in a community-based program, I immediately said yes. I figured I’d use the same approach as I did in my adult workshops, just adapted for nine-year-olds.

I was directed to a small, quiet room, and soon the first group filed in clutching bright pink binders. They arranged themselves around a long table, boys on one end, girls on the other. Then they looked up at me to see what’s going to happen next.

I introduced myself to the children and told them they will be writing short stories about real things that happened in their lives. “Pick any memory and write about it,” I said. “When you’re finished you can read your story out loud.”

Some started to work immediately, others gazed into the distance, thinking. Some of the boys spent a few minutes poking one another and giggling. After 20 minutes, they were ready to reveal their memories.

A girl wrote about a surprise: “My dad woke me up and I went to the hospital. My mom was holding a baby. So I asked, ‘Who is this?’ She said it was my brother.”

One boy wrote about himself: “I am best at math in class. I love apples, bananas, and oranges. I am moral. I want to dye my
hair red.”

Over the 10-week session, the children covered many topics: descriptions of their street, their mothers, and their friends; a special event; and a popular subject – their favorite food. They wrote about family parties, trips to amusement parks, and their goals for the future.

For the last class of the semester, I asked them to express their thoughts about writing and what they’ve learned. The responses of these wonderful children thrilled me.

Mariely said the workshop “made me get better grades on my writing and my writing got very pretty and my mom is happy.”

Jake wrote: “The writing workshop taught me how to be not afraid to share my life with people and I got a little better with my handwriting and lost a bit of stage fright.”

And Jason cogently summed it up: “Writing can take anyone to the zoo, space, the city, and many places that you go to in your mind.”

To learn more about HVWC’s community outreach programming, which will continue at LIFE this fall, and our in-house events and workshops, please visit

Joan Potter and children in her workshop.
Joan Potter and children in her workshop.
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