Victoria’s Story Studio Writing Society is a registered charity that aims to help young people through the creative-writing process. Backed by book-lovers and a growing pool of dedicated volunteers, they go into classrooms to show kids how easy it can be to become an author.
Founder Paisley Aiken was struck with inspiration after spending time at an organization called 826 Valencia, founded by Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari, that helps kids with writing. She decided Victoria needed its own method of encouraging creativity and literacy among our city’s youth. So, in 2011, Aiken started offering out-of-school workshops to help students with writing. However, after getting invited into a classroom, she felt like that format was “the right fit.” Story Studio then applied for charitable status, which they received last December. “Since then, we do about 75 per cent of our programming in schools,” Aiken says.
The whole team, Aiken included, has a background in creative writing and a love for books. Although Aiken stresses that grammar and spelling are an important part of writing, they aren’t the most important part of the Story Studio experience. “If we can get kids just motivated to write, then we take down any barriers to it, and the more they write, the better they get at spelling and grammar. We really want kids to feel like writing is a tool that they can use to express themselves, to communicate, to explore their creative self and not be inhibited or scared because they might make mistakes.”
There are several companies that provide volunteers to help with typing up the stories—as well as eight other consistent volunteer typists—and there are currently about 14 classroom volunteers. These volunteers come along on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to any of the 50 classrooms they visit in a year. Along with an experienced facilitator who gives entertaining presentations on the basics of storytelling, the volunteers work one-on-one with as many kids as possible.
Participants range from kindergarten age all the way up to high school. The volunteers sometimes scribe the kids’ stories for them, taking dictation so that they can focus on expressing their imagination without being encumbered by their current level of literacy. For kids with stronger writing and typing skills, they just provide coaching and editing in an attempt to pull more out onto the page.
After Story Studio runs a workshop in a class, they then have volunteers type up and edit the kids’ stories. Then they print and bind keepsake copies of the stories for the kids to take home. “The kids are so proud of them,” says Aiken of the bound stories. “The project-based learning is really motivational and very important in keeping them engaged.”
What’s in store for Story Studio? Aiken seems ready to take on all sorts of projects with the Story Studio in the future. They’re in the process of getting a city-wide anthology going. They’re also going to continue offering their holiday camps. There has even been talk of a possible cross-culture experience with students from Uganda, which could entail kids in Victoria exchanging stories with them. For more information, or if you want to get involved, check out storystudio.ca.