John Stewart: The Value of Writing for Freedom of Expression

The Write Stuff - Virginia
October 2014

John Stewart and I have been acquainted for many years through our extended circle of friends, but it was not until I ran into him at a technology symposium for Arlington County Schools in the summer of 2013 that I had a chance to see him in action as an educator.  As an instructional lead teacher for the school system, John was facilitating a class about apps and Internet resources to hook students into writing creatively.  With a career that began in the 1990s at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education , and has since spanned over two decades in the classroom, providing adventures far and near, I knew he would have a keen perspective on writing with his students.   When I found his name on the NVWP resource blog, I realized it was time to give John a call.

John in his classroom 

Haley Hendershot: Student Writing as Authentic Writing Practice

The Write Stuff - Virginia
October 2014

Haley Hendershot and I first met when she was completing her practicum work prior to her first full time teaching position.  She was training with my colleague at school, and we struck up a conversation about poetry.  Haley was working toward her Master of Fine Arts through a college in Vermont, and we were both looking for people with whom we could workshop poems and short fiction.  That was nearly seven years ago.  Since that time, Haley has moved, finished her MFA, been head of her department at a middle school in Henrico County outside of Richmond, Virginia, and has developed a definite philosophy on the impact of authentic writing assignments and publication in relation to her students’ investment in the craft.

Primavera: It's Like Family

Front Porch Magazine
October 2014 (pg. 6)

On the corner of William and Liberty Streets sits a restaurant with a humble facade, but walk through its green wooden doors and you’ll find yourself awash in conversation, laughter, and community.  It’s a pizza joint, a neighborhood joint, a family joint.  It’s a place for birthdays and graduations, for lunch hours and Friday night take-out on your way home to the kids.  For the past eight years, Primavera has earned a word-of-mouth reputation that makes it one of the city’s culinary success stories.  

Photo by A.E. Bayne -  Rami Hamrouni checks on the Platt family as they enjoy their first Primavera pizza.

Lee Schleifer Brosius: Tapping into the Elementary Goldmine

The Write Stuff - Virginia
October 2014

Though middle and secondary teachers often don’t think to seek advice from their elementary school counterparts, there is a wealth of untapped potential for writing integration and cross-curricular lessons in the initial levels of education.  Not only do elementary school teachers have the expertise of teaching all subjects, but they often develop ways to reach a number of different levels in a single lesson that bridge subjects and genres.  I recently had the pleasure of speaking with veteran elementary school teacher, Lee Schleifer Brosius, about writing integration in her elementary school classes. Lee has as Masters of Education plus thirty extra graduate hours and seventeen years experience as an elementary teacher in 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 5th grade, and now in 1st grade.  She currently teaches in Prince William County, Virginia.

Recovery in Motion Gains Momentum

Front Porch Magazine
October 2014 (pg. 31)

Mental health has been at the forefront of many of our minds in the wake of beloved comedian Robin Williams’ death in August.  And how often have we been shocked to hear of a favorite performer, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, succumbing to a substance abuse disorder?  While some may seem immune from these issues, many of us, the majority really, know that these systemic problems not only happen on the front pages of the entertainment section, but occur within our own lives either personally or through the struggles of friends and loved ones.  Fortunately, there are success stories for every tragedy, but any promising outcomes are best supported by further therapy and counseling.  Recovery in Motion is an area nonprofit that trains adult peer counselors to provide support to fellow adults following a mental health or substance abuse crisis.  

Editorial: Position on Writing

The Write Stuff - Virginia
October 2014

Throughout my years in school, writing was a foundation that grounded me and allowed me the freedom to explore my beliefs, focus my creative energies, and feel successful in a climate where I often felt like the odd one out. From this, I would have to say that my position on the teaching of writing and its use as a tool for learning is one that allows it to remain organic, allows it room to change and breathe, and one where criticism remains limited to what works well in student work, rather than what the student has done incorrectly. Writing is such a personal venture, and no matter which form it takes that must be respected.

Writing should always be approached relative to the writer’s experience. When it grows out of a natural understanding of the world, students have the opportunity to explore any subject on their own terms. Writing is unique in this way, especially when we are locked into a rigid climate of curriculum and standards that may seem irrelevant to many of our students. Our students should have the freedom to approach content with personal connections and by exploring interests as unique and varied as themselves. This authentic connection with the world through writing provides an environment rich with learning opportunities and growth.

Given to change, writing requires room to breathe. It should be viewed as an organic component in our curriculum that should not always be subject to rubrics and grades. Drafts are changeable; nothing has to be forever. Even a final draft may one day have revisions. We should impart to students that the final draft required on a due date or test is simply the best version they can possibly create on that date. It is a vivid lesson on living in the present, but also one of loosening attachments – attachments to ideas about fixed ability, perfection, and mastery. By facilitating an environment where students see their writing as a living thing, we provide a model for the way ideas and constructs in society change and evolve.

Criticism should be limited and constructive in nature. We, as teachers, should focus on what works well in student papers, encouraging them to do more of these things rather than highlighting what is wrong. Form and function should be taught for what they are – tools for communication, for the reader’s ease, and to drive a point home. Some of the best writing happens when the tools are used in ways that fall outside the norm. Writing should be innovation and mind-expanding. This is where we want our students to be comfortable in their learning.

The personal nature of the written craft must be respected. Even as English teachers, we cannot approach this tool as one over which we have actual domain, as it is a tool that is as inherent, unique, and personal to each of us. It is our voice. It is our self.


20 Years Strong: Fredericksburg's disAbility Resource Center

Front Porch Magazine
October 2013 (pg 28)

September traditionally kicks off the fall gala season, many of which are designed to benefit worthwhile organizations within our community.  One such gala will celebrate and support Fredericksburg’s disAbility Resource Center, a local outreach in its 20th year of operation.  Funded primarily through personal donations, grants, and city and county government donations, dRC offers four primary services and a variety of outreach programs to citizens in Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George, and Caroline.  They also provide deaf and hard of hearing services to people in Orange, Culpepper, Madison, and throughout the Northern Neck.  As program manager /deputy director Kim Lett puts it, “It’s hard to describe exactly what we do, because we do such a wide variety of things for people with disabilities in our community.”

NCIL 2010 March - Photo provided by Fredericksburg disAbility Resource Center

The Gospel According to Jackson Harlem

Front Porch Magazine
October 2012 (pg. 24)

“Everything is performance. Everywhere is a stage. Everything is religion.” So embodies the philosophy of Jackson Harlem. His is a story of creative abundance, influenced by his minister father and growing up in what he describes as “a spiritually aware household.” Harlem professes that the essence of entrepreneurship is encoded in his blood, generating a “kind of backpacking spirit, going from place to place to share things I am most passionate about.”

Jackson Harlem

A Lift in the Room

Front Porch Magazine
October 2011

Ashleigh Chevalier was preparing to perform in Fredericksburg’s annual Christmas parade last fall, and in the spirit of the season she envisioned a group of female vocalists lifting each other in support and friendship.  The realization that there was more to music than getting on stage and performing gnawed at her, and she realized how easy it was for musicians to lose sight of that and fixate on their own successes.  Today she explains, “It is difficult to put yourself in front of people in a competitive industry. The best way to deal with that anxiety is to kill it with kindness, love and support.”

Karen Young concurs, “Those of us with years of industry experience should help beginners gain more exposure and confidence. We’re all artistic women, which adds to our insecurities.  We brightened at the opportunity to engender creativity within the safety of a group of female friends, certainly for empowerment, but most of all for camaraderie.”

A recent addition to Singin’ Ladies, Lisa Wyland describes the benefits of engaging with women who have industry experience, “Though I have been a singer for many years, I just recently started writing songs and playing my guitar.  The ladies have never criticized my efforts.  Someone will pipe in with, ‘hey, this is nice’ or ‘this would sound good here.’ I had the creative energy before, but Singin’ Ladies has given that energy an outlet.”

“It’s kind of a mixed bag of expectations,” muses Kathy Douberly.  “I think everyone takes a different approach to it; some think we’re going to do great things, while others simply enjoy the cooperation and learning each other’s songs. Ultimately, we all love to sing.”

The ladies’ mainstay is their monthly showcase at Bryan Highland’s 909 Saloon.  Chevalier emphasizes that these have allowed the women to hone their talents, and she credits Bethany (Wolfe) Cleveland for taking the first step as a headliner, “During rehearsals we generally jam and wing our way through covers, but on the night of Bethany’s acoustic showcase we performed her original music.  We spontaneously took turns chiming in with her and you could feel the lift in the room when we unintentionally harmonized with one another.  We all went to tears.   The awe grew in the room that night, and it continues to grow with each show.” 

Laura Shepherd shares her own experience with showcasing, “The first time I sang with three of the ladies backing me it was so beautiful I forgot the words to my own song.”

Emily Barker ascertains that this spontaneity remains a highlight of the group.  “One of the first events we did was Christmas caroling in front of Virginia Wine Experience,” says Barker.  “We were winging it, and people stopped to listen and ask about the group. Here comes a girl who joins in and starts singing with us.  I thought she must be a local singer, but she was just inspired.”  

In addition to supporting each other, Singin’ Ladies of the ‘Burg set altruistic sights toward the future.  Douberly hopes to extend the group’s musical reach to people who are unable to attend the showcases, such as those in elderly care facilities or confined to their homes.  A live Christmas album is also in development for sale later this year.  Proceeds from both projects will be donated to charity.

The Singin’ Ladies of the ‘Burg will play their next showcase featuring Emily Barker on Friday, October 28, 2011, at 909 Saloon on Caroline Street.  For complete bios and more information, visit them here:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Singin-Ladies-of-the-burg/261134307237540?sk=wall

Wordpress: http://singinladies.wordpress.com/the-singin-ladies-are/


A.E. Bayne is a teacher and writer who has lived and worked in Fredericksburg for thirteen years.