“Hello, I’m glad you’re here. I’m happy to be here,” says MOI Program Director Cristeta Boarini, greeting the students a part of the 2019 Young Authors’ Book Project (YABP) in her usual way. At this point in the year, most students have caught on to the fact that Cristeta begins class this way—some might reply, “I’m glad I’m here too.” Friendly quips aside, the result of intentionally beginning class in this way is the creation of a genuine community of care.
This year, MOI is working with ninth and tenth graders from South High School’s All Nations Program, the school’s track for Native and Indigenous students. We are also lucky to be working with South High alumnus and local Dakota hip-hop artist Tall Paul as a mentor author.
Throughout this yearlong project, MOI’s goal is to provide an environment where students can practice and take risks with their writing. Honesty in writing is valued above overt positivity and correctness in the YABP classroom. Cristeta tells students, “If you think the assignment is dumb, then write that.” The whole purpose of the program is to give students the tools to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that’s meaningful to them.
Each project’s curriculum is written based on the needs of the students and is purposefully aligned with the classroom teacher’s curriculum, meeting core standards for English and writing. “We’re actively trying to challenge students while meeting them where they’re at,” says Cristeta. The YABP lessons build on lessons taught by the classroom teacher the three other days of the week, instead of interrupting them.
Every member of the YABP team not only carefully supports students through their writing journey but also brings an important dynamic to the table. MOI’s Writer’s Room Coordinator, Sam, brings warmth, humor, and energy, Paul Von Drasek, a volunteer and MOI board member, is kind and brings calming energy, Tall Paul is a role model and perhaps an inspiration to some of our students, while Cristeta and this year’s partner teacher Ms. Yost listen and provide guidance.
Through this project, students aren’t just honing their writing skills, which is critical to academic success and career readiness. Students are also learning that “they are capable of a project of such magnitude, that writing can be empowering and enjoyable, and that their thoughts and ideas have value,” says Sam. From Paul Von Drasek’s perspective, YABP is an opportunity to “remind students of their strength.”
This year, the Young Authors’ Book Project began with a prompt asking students to write poems about where they’re from—whether that’s a neighborhood, a community, or even a sound or smell that reminds them of home. In these poems, students defined themselves and how they want other people to see them.
Next, students crafted character analysis papers and short stories. For the short story unit, students were encouraged to write about anything. The optional prompt asked students to write about a time they felt othered and change the ending of the story with a fantasy or sci-fi twist that restored students’ power in that situation.
At the end of the semester, students choose a piece to submit to the anthology. This year’s book, Indigenous Originated: Walking in Two Worlds, is the product of student collaboration—students used ranked-choice voting to choose the title and cover art; all the illustrations and content are the work of the students; the foreword is written by Tall Paul, an active member of the Native community in Minneapolis; and the cover design was imagined based on the students’ writing and created by Marlena Myles, a Spirit Lake Dakota artist. Cristeta says, “My ethos for this project has been letting the students have more control and making the publishing process more transparent.”
Cristeta is consciously making choices to ensure this is not an extractive process where we parachute in and out of students lives. MOI knows that our young authors are multi-faceted and deeply complex people. Their stories are their own to share with the world as they see fit.
Finally, at the end of this process, students receive a copy of their book—a beautiful, professional volume that they created together. Students’ school library and other community spaces also receive free copies of the anthology. The books are sold to the public in local bookstores and at MOI headquarters. These books are proof that success can come in a community relationship driven way.
Join MOI at Moon Palace Books on May 15th from 4:30 to 7 p.m. to celebrate the release of Indigenous Originated: Walking in Two Worlds and the accomplishments of our young authors.
“But I guess it is a NDN
thing in the sense that
I’m NDN n doing
-Tommy Pico from “IRL”