Art Sparks: A Night to Inspire

By Madison Offenburger

On September 25th, The Iowa Youth Writing Project and Prompt Press came together at Iowa City’s Goosetown Cafe to celebrate the collaboration between Iowa artists and young writers from The Iowa Youth Writing Project.

Over the spring and summer, 17 Iowa artists donated their works of art to The Iowa Youth Writing Project and Prompt Press. Throughout the summer months, K-12 students participating in the IYWP’s week-long writing camps responded to the art, cultivating articulate, reflective, witty, and genuine responses.


The evening commenced with a delicious reception provided by Goosetown Cafe and a silent auction where IYWP volunteers, interns, and educators mingled with students, parents, and artists. Those in attendance were able to admire the art and written responses that hung together in the cafe as well as a booth displaying some of the beautiful work from Prompt Press.


Following the reception and silent auction, students bravely read their responses to an encouraging crowd. Bidders who won the silent auction were able to take with them the written responses that were read that evening.


Overall, the proceeds from the art auction were estimated to be at a whopping $2,700. This money will directly benefit the IYWP’s weekly and summer writing workshops, their Junior High Writing Conference, and purchase supplies for over 400-plus student writing kits for over 400-plus aspiring student writers.

Photos by Madison Offenburger


Volunteer Experiences: A conversation with Zion

These Aren’t Trick Questions

Zion wasn’t writing. Our other kids were working on their writing assignment more or less diligently, but Zion was just silently staring at a blank sheet of notebook paper, looking lost. So I decided to talk to him.

      Hey, Zion, I said. Are you having fun? In retrospect, I don’t know why I said this. Obviously, he was not having fun.

      No, Zion quipped.

      Is there something you’d rather be doing? I asked. He continued to stare at the paper blankly. Is there a game you’d like to play? Silence. Come on, these aren’t trick questions.

      He looked up at me. They’re not?

      Something I try to give the kids I teach with my lesson plans is the ability to alter my lesson plans. There are different ways to teach everyone, but most kids will always assume that the way you’ve decided to teach them that day is the best way, by default. And most kids are willing to go along with any activity you decide to throw at them, as long as you can keep all of your plates spinning. But there are some activities that just don’t work for certain kids.

      Take Zion, for example. The writing activity in question, he felt, was geared toward girls, ultimately telling me flat-out, I don’t like that I’m the only boy here. Pointing out that I too was a guy didn’t seem to get me much headway, so I started to ask him what he wanted to write about. Eventually he suggested ghosts.

      I love ghost stories, I said.

      His eyes widened. Are ghosts real? he asked.

      My friend saw a ghost once, I said. Have you ever seen one? He shook his head. Do you wanna make up a ghost story?

      Yeah, he said. I could tell his creative waves were finally spiking. Unfortunately, our time was up. I promised him we’d make time for ghost stories next week. If I had stuck rigidly to the activities outlined in our lesson plan for that day, would I have made what I felt was a real connection with Zion? I don’t think so. Flexibility, I’m learning, is a key skill to have in order to reach even a small group of curious kids and unlock their creative spirits.

      Plus, I really like ghost stories. Can’t wait for next week!

~By Dan DeMarco

Volunteer Experiences: Overcoming Obstacles


Sculpting Creative and Thoughtful Individuals

Being careful with word choice is necessary, no matter which situation you are in. Talking to your coworkers, children, or superiors, choosing accurate language and mindful vocabulary needs to become second nature. I learned this lesson the hard way when I implemented an activity in the IYWP after school program last week.

At Mark Twain elementary school, I wanted to use a lesson plan the kids would find enjoyable, would spark their creativity, and would yield lasting, interesting, and all-new products. After learning about “Wreck This Journal,” I thought it would be cool to ‘wreck’ cheap, used children’s book by ripping out and rearranging pages, crossing out and adding in words and pictures, and overall altering the books. I knew this would be something kids would find exciting because it’s something they are often told NOT to do: “Don’t write in the book; Don’t doodle on your pages; Don’t be reckless with this book.” In fact, one child I worked with was hesitant to put his name on the ‘author’ page of one of the books. He had been taught to respect books, which is great. “But that’s the whole point of this project!” I explained to him. “It’s our book, and I want you to help me rewrite it,” I said as I handed him the pen.

This did excite the kiddos. There were even two girls who were reluctant to come into the room because they didn’t want to be doing ‘school stuff.’ “This is the opposite of school stuff,” I coaxed. “We are ‘unwriting’ books, tearing them up, DESTROYING THEM.”

Yes, yes, this did excite them. They agreed to come in the room… and started ripping the books to shreds.

With wide eyes, I watched as bits and pieces of the room fell to bits and pieces.

Two boys across the space were also tearing their books up into unrecognizable tatters, mixing their two books together with enthusiasm.

While I was glad they were enthusiastic, I was not so prepared to handle the situation.

In the small amount of time remaining, I encouraged the guys to find what they could salvage and create a story from it. This, they were still not so interested in. They knew it would be hard work to find whole pages from their destruction, and they didn’t want hard work.

However, some of the students did find the activity meaningful. They carefully located which words in the sentence of the book were meaningful and changed them. Next, they re-illustrated the page to match their new story.

When it came time to host the next group of students, I was more careful with my wording:

“We are going to recreate the books: you can take pages out, and rearrange them, cross out words and write in the books, but you have to be making a new story.”

This still intrigued them: they were getting to do something new and dangerous. However, by being careful in my word choice, no one’s book was turned into gerbil bedding.

This translates to the home: telling a child to hurry through a chore may influence them to do it so quickly that they may make an even bigger mess. Instead, we can reiterate that while we want them to be quick, we want them to be thorough and careful—that those factors are equally, if not more, important.

Words like destroy, demolish, wreck, and mutilate are similar to, but have different connotations, than rewrite, recreate, rearrange, and regenerate. The two different sets of words produced very dissimilar results. We as leaders, teachers, influencers, or parents need to be mindful in our word choice to get the effect we want from a lesson or activity. Using vocabulary that is thoughtful and provoking, but not too exaggerated, is necessary to produce the outcome we are looking for, be it a clean room or recreated children’s story.

~ Chelsea Essing

Community, Questions, and Cedar Valley

Katie Giorgio, Heather Spangler, and their fellow IYWP volunteers are going above and beyond with their creative youth journalism workshop at Four Oaks Cedar Valley in Cedar Rapids, which was recently featured in Brittany Borghi’s story on the Iowa Youth Writing Project for KGAN-TV CBS 2. The volunteers introduced the young writers to the art of interviewing, teaching them the importance of close listening and asking open-ended, relevant questions. Each young writer chose a topic or profession that interested them, and then Katie and Heather actually recruited community members in those fields to visit Four Oaks Cedar Valley for live interviews with the budding journalists! Here’s a letter from “our woman in the field” Heather Spangler:

I wanted to let you know that last night was a big success with the live interviews. I’m attaching some photos of the kids in action.

Basketball players from Kirkwood Community College are interviewed by the young writers of Four Oaks Cedar Valley.
Basketball players from Kirkwood Community College are interviewed by the young writers of Four Oaks Cedar Valley.

As you can see, the Kirkwood basketball players were a big draw. The guys were awesome. In fact, the night ended with the players and the kids out on the basketball court showing off their skills. Rylee ran to her house to get a shovel to clear the snow and the players turned their car to point it toward the court and turned on their headlights so that they could see. It was a really neat moment.

Some other special successes: Samira, one of our youngest group members, completely rocked her interview with a Xavier High School poms coach. She asked great questions and wrote four pages of notes. When she was finished, she shook Stephanie’s hand and said, “Thank you for your time and for letting me interview you.” It was precious. Then, she was so proud of herself, she called her mom to tell her about her success.

Samira interviews  Xavier High School poms coach Stephanie.
Samira interviews Xavier High School poms coach Stephanie.

Armani, one of the quieter group members, spent the most time with his interviewee, a representative of Dogs Forever, Cedar Rapids’ first no-kill dog shelter. He didn’t write a lot of notes and didn’t give off a lot of body language signals that he was excited, but he asked her so many questions and kept talking with her even when most of the other kids were outside playing basketball. When she left, his guest told me that he revealed to her that he was an honor’s student.

Armani and Lisa
Armani interviews Lisa, a representative of Dogs Forever, the first no-kill dog shelter in Cedar Rapids.

Next week, we turn the interviews into stories!

Rylee interviews a volleyball player from Kirkwood Community College.
Rylee interviews a volleyball player from Kirkwood Community College.


Katie Giorgio, recipient of a Corridor Business Journal 2012 “40 Under 40” award, is a freelance writer and Nonprofit Network Coordinator of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. Read her full bio here.

Heather Spangler is a strategic communications writer at the University of Iowa and also teaches in the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

“You go with the person that completes your dream”

This semester, Heather Spangler and her fellow IYWP volunteers are leading a creative youth journalism workshop at Four Oaks Cedar Valley in Cedar Rapids. Whether or not you’re struggling with love this Valentine’s Day, this post from the budding advice columnists of Cedar Valley is for you. Heather Spangler introduces the project:

This semester the Cedar Valley writing group is focused on journalism. Students chose a publication theme and are writing three stories in three different journalistic styles to match their theme. Themes include basketball, animation, history, dogs, volleyball, dance, music, and beauty. This week, however, the group of elementary and middle school students focused on writing advice columns and answered each other’s questions about love in honor of Valentine’s Day.

I expected lots of giggles and silly responses with this mushy gushy prompt and instead was blown away by these wise, thoughtful kids. Read and learn:

Q: Why is love so hard for some people?

A: Because most times people don’t know they’re in love until they are told by someone else.

Q: Do you know what love is?

A: Yes I do, okay. Love is when you love someone else. You give them hugs and kisses and give them candy.  When you love someone, you can’t get them off your mind. I also know you usually don’t know you’re in love until you really get close to know somebody. Most people always wait to claim when they are in love. Sometimes others have to say you’re in love before you, yourself figure it out.

Q: On Valentine’s Day, I know girls like to get flowers and chocolate, but what is a good gift for a boy?

A: Some boys trash flowers. I don’t think it’s not for boys. That’s what I think. Other people think it can be for boys and girls, but my brother trashes other things like my stuff and my mom’s stuff. Boys can get other stuff.

Q: How should you show someone that you love them?

A: Talk to them most of the day and then soon the person you like might like you back. When you’re in a relationship with them you usually hang out with them a lot and let no one tell you you’re wrong because it’s who you love, not anybody else.

Q: Someone I like is kind of shy to talk to me. What do I do?

A: You should start a conversation with them, like ask them what do they like or what do you guys have in common.

Q: What is love? How did love become a thing?

A: Love is something you show. If you love somebody, you should show and tell them how much you love them. Love became a thing because without love everyone will go around killing everyone, telling you the truth.

Q: There are two people I really like. How do I choose?

A: You go with the person that completes your dream. One that makes you laugh and is always smiling and caring. Someone who does not talk about just themself. Never choose one that your friends or family tell you. Go with what your heart tells you. A man that gives good advice and goes through thick and thin with you. Go with the one your heart tells you to go with.

IYWP Valentine

Heather Spangler is a strategic communications writer at the University of Iowa and also teaches in the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She recently revealed to the Cedar Valley kids that she was the hula hoop champion at her elementary school in 6th grade.