Connecticut Writing Project’s Ubuntu Academy: Writing with Refugee- and Immigrant-Background Youth

Connecticut Writing Project’s Ubuntu Academy: Writing with Refugee- and Immigrant-Background Youth
Photo credit – Jason Miczek, NWP Photographer

Since 2014, the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University has hosted summer writing camps, known as Young Adult Literacy Labs, in collaboration with a National Writing Project leadership institute for teachers. Upholding the belief that access to high-quality educational experience is a basic right of all learners and a cornerstone of equity, CWP’s literacy labs have served 1000s of young people and teachers in Connecticut, including English language learners who participate in Ubuntu Academy, the two-week summer lab designed specifically for immigrant and refugee youth.

Guided by a community of philosophical inquiry and the spirit of Ubuntu, the Nguni-Bantu word for humanity and humbled togetherness, CWP-Fairfield’s summer writing programs have bloomed into yearlong collaborations between teachers, school clubs, service-learning courses, cross-district partnerships and festivals, including Saugatuck StoryFest – a one of a kind literary festival in Westport, Connecticut. Each year, all individuals participating in CWP’s programs publish writing in POW! The Power of Words, an Anthology of Teachers and Students.

Since its inception, Ubuntu Academy has been taught by William King and Jessica Baldizon, a pair of urban school educators and graduates of Fairfield University, in liaison with Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall, Director of the Connecticut Writing Project and Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions. The three work with Fairfield University’s Office of Service Learning to design courses for young people to have additional leadership opportunities throughout the school year, including internships with University faculty, interaction with Fairfield University athletics, and attendance at special events and programs on campus.

Additionally, William King, who teaches at Bassick High School, and Jessica Baldizon, who teaches at Cesar Batalla K-9 School, created HOPE Club, an after-school space for mentorship between high school ESL students and younger English language learners. Here, books and activities are shared to inspire new writing possibilities.

Success of Ubuntu Academy has also led to the creation of the Refugee Youth Mentorship Program at Fairfield University, where undergraduates volunteer to tutor, mentor and socialize with young people who receive services from the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants.

The community partnerships have been the investment of many and, as a result, several refugee- and immigrant-background youth have been accepted and enrolled at Fairfield University as undergraduates, demonstrating a positive academic trajectory from the Connecticut Writing Project’s literacy labs (3rd-12th grade) to college attendance at Fairfield University. The community writing model embodies collaboration and reciprocity.

Godfrey and McCarthy have written about the project for the journal Public: A Journal of Imagining America. They are currently writing a collaboratively-written essay with their community partners for the Community Literacy Journal.

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