At Uptown Stories, we believe that the best youth programming works an inch wide and a mile deep; our vision is to expand and deepen our programming in a sustainable, meaningful way that maintains the high quality of our workshops. During the current 2018-19 academic year, we will offer a total of eighteen workshops during the fall, winter, and spring semesters. We will also provide eight 1-week classes during the summer, a writing camp during spring break, as well as multiple special events and parent workshops. We want our workshops to reflect the continually expanding modes of storytelling, including digital animation and filmmaking, along with our print-based writing genres. Through these workshops, we will create over 2000 pages of writing and comics over four print anthologies and serve over 300 students annually. We aspire to become a dedicated hub where not only workshops, tutoring, mentorship, and volunteerism have a home, but also self-exploration and personal growth.
It’s challenging to inspire children to think and write after a full day of school, so we are very selective about who we hire. All of our instructors are practicing writers and artists, who can speak with personal conviction about the writing life, and also experienced teachers, who can create unique, engaging curricula for different ages and learning styles. Most of our teachers are also community residents, who know about the challenges of the neighborhood, as well as its local resources. To ensure our students receive ample individualized attention, our workshops have a 10:1 student to teacher ratio and many workshops have a volunteer classroom assistant. In contrast, the student-to-teacher ratio at our local District 6 schools is nearly 30:1.
Community partnership and collaborations have enhanced our program offerings at Uptown Stories. Since 2014, we have regularly worked with bookstores, community centers and other local nonprofits, schools, and publishers to meet our goals.
Our three-person staff manages the entire organization – from creating the workshops and hiring the teachers to marketing, sales, accounting, fundraising, publishing the anthologies, and managing our volunteers. In order to expand our capacity without increasing our staff expenses, we created the Small Job Squad, identifying specific tasks and creating a playful gallery of “jobs” for volunteers who have acted as classroom assistants, designed and built our website, created our logo and promotional materials, helped manage our social media, written grant applications, and developed digital marketing strategies. In 2017, we received a grant from Columbia University’s Medical Center Neighborhood Fund. We also hold regular crowdfunding campaigns and an end-of-year annual campaign, as well as smaller fundraising events, like our writing party Saturday Write Live.
One of the areas where we are most interested in establishing infrastructure is to create more consistent quantitative metrics. Historically, we have conducted surveys with parents and students before and after a workshop. We are most interested in seeing that our students are coming out of our workshops feeling more confident and empowered to take creative risks. We seek to understand how our students’ feelings about writing have changed and are also examining how students perceive themselves to have grown as writers over the course of a semester. We ask parents to complete similar surveys to examine their observations surrounding improvements and changes in their children’s writing as well as observations of their children’s overall attitudes towards writing.
Executive Director Kate Reuther offered the first Uptown Stories workshop in her living room after more than 15 years of teaching English in New York City public and private schools. In 2011, Kate hired her first instructor to teach “Adventure Stories” at The Cornerstone Center. In 2014, Uptown Stories incorporated into a 501(c)(3) organization. Workshop offerings were expanded to include “Pow! Writing and Drawing Comics,” “Write Like A Girl,” “My True Story,” and have continued to grow and change with student needs and interests. In 2016, Assistant Director Lydia Villaronga was hired to manage volunteer recruitment, registration, and sustaining and growing programs and service. In 2017, Summer Workshop Director Glendaliz Camacho was hired to develop and implement the marketing strategy and schedule for our first-ever summer program. Our recent achievements include two Uptown Stories students winning 2018 Scholastic Writing Awards and 100 workshops to date.