Creativity and imagination are endless when children, college students, professors and community organizations engage together in an effort to inspire creative writing.
Chris Bolin, faculty advisor of the “Creative Cloud” program and professor of the ENGL 211 creative writing course, was recognized with the Presidents’ Civic Engagement Steward Award and the President’s Community Partner Award this past January.
The award, sponsored by the Minnesota Campus Connect program, recognizes a faculty member, a student and a partnership for community engagement. Bolin and his partnership with Shawn Gambos, principal of Discovery Elementary School, were recognized for community engagement in creative writing programs. This program is unique because English courses are not typically used for civic engagement.
“Chris had a lot of enthusiasm for this project and did so much of the research to see this happen,” Bonner-Service Learning Fellow Adia Zeman said. “The program brings students’ gifts and knowledge into the community, not only sharing an art form but promoting literacy among children.”
The “Creative Cloud” program was started in January of 2012 by Kit Chambers and Eddie Hanlon, two CSB/SJU English majors who had a vision to start a creative writing program at the St. Cloud Public Library. The Literary Arts Institute also provided financial support to reinforce the program’s aspirations.
The original vision for Creative Cloud has grown alongside a larger initiative to bring creative writing into the greater St. Cloud community. Bolin received an education grant last summer through AmeriCorps that provided the training and support to further institutionalize the project. As a part of the grant, Chambers has become the first AmeriCorps representative for the CSB/SJU English Department.
“The transition to AmeriCorp has been that extra push the program needs,” Chambers said. “New students continue to come to Creative Cloud every week. We have really gained a lot of credibility in the community.”
As an additional aspect of the program’s growth, Bolin has adapted the ENGL 211 creative writing course by adding an Experiential Learning component to his curriculum.
His creative writing course will be offered in the fall as ENGL 214 entitled, “Creative Writing: Writers in Service.” In the current ENGL 211 course, students visit Discovery Elementary school 4-6 times throughout the semester to work on creative writing with fourth and fifth graders.
“It struck me that students were really drawn to this work,” Bolin said. “Students’ work advances quickly as they try to distill complex ideas to understandable yet compelling bits for fourth and fifth graders to understand.”
Discovery Elementary has opened its doors to the new program, and Principal Shawn Gambos has worked closely with Bolin in this pilot community engagement program.
“Having Chris’s students teach our young writers was a great way for our students to interact with college students,” Gambos said. “Chris, a master innovator, dreamt up the partnership, worked tirelessly with our students, his students and our teachers to create learning experiences that were rich and life changing.”
Overall, the transformation of the Creative Cloud program is a result of teamwork and collaboration between departments and community organizations.
“People have been hungry for this,” said Mark Conway, the Executive Director of the Literary Arts Institute. “Everyone from the English Department to the Dean’s office have worked together to overcome any administrative hurdles.”
The program’s impact is clear in the students’ progress in the Library tutoring program and in the classrooms of Discovery Elementary.
“It takes a leap of faith to assume your students can do something like teach,” Bolin said. “They are not education majors, so their willingness to learn how to teach has made it tremendously successful.”
Through the transformation and growth the Creative Cloud program has experienced, the initial vision of the program remains the same.
“We’re dropping lifelines,” Bolin said. “I’m hopeful that, for some of these kids, poetry and fiction can offer them a way out of difficult circumstances: a lifeline to a better place.”