I Work in a Pirate Ship

Seriously.

I’m interning at 826 Valencia this summer. It’s located in the Mission District of San Francisco which is a pretty incredible area. It’s very trendy—sort of the eye of the Hipster Storm, if you will. And then there’s us. When 826 Valencia first opened in 2003, the area was zoned for commercial use so we had to sell something. The Pirate Supply Store was born. You can learn a little more about it here and find ways to combat that nasty case of scurvy.

Behind the Pirate Store is where the magic happens. There’s always something going on here. All of our resources are free to students and their families, which is pretty incredible given the breadth and depth of the work 826 Valencia does.

During the school year, Bay Area classes come to 826 for field trips that center around collective story writing or screenwriting and we have a class in nearly every day. We generally have a project based learning system, so each student leaves with a chapbook they’ve written in two hours or so and we humble interns have bound in a frenzy. Each chapbook includes illustrations by our phenomenal volunteer illustrators, so they look pretty great. Additionally, we run a homework help center every day of the week.

During the summer, we offer themed workshops (ex. magic writing, food writing, writing about art, comic book writing, writing about whales, etc. You name it, we write about it.) and the daily summer camp, Exploring Words. Boy oh boy, is it neat!

Exploring Words Summer Camp (hereafter, the unfortunately acronymed EW) caters to low income students who are below grade level in reading and writing. We have some seventy-five students, divided into three sections by age and skill level and they rotate in throughout the day. We work with them on writing skills, and we partner with other organizations to ensure that students get a good dose of physical activity during the day, as well as help with their reading skills. We have roughly a two to one student to tutor ratio during this camp.

What I do here in decreasing order of coolness:

Teach EW

Tutor with EW

Work on stories during field trips

Help with publications

Write and read copy for our publications and website

Restock The Pirate Store

Swab the decks (with a Swiffer)

Deliver the mail

I often tutor during EW, but yesterday was my first day as a teacher. It looks like I will take this role once a week, which is good because it is possibly one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done. I taught students about syllables and how to write haikus. We all followed the five-seven-five rule and wrote Guess What I Am animal haikus. In case you didn’t know, kids love puppies. They also know some super obscure facts about seahorses. And La Chupacabra is not a real animal, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t make a great haiku.

Some of them got upset when they realized that they accidentally didn’t follow the five-seven-five pattern, so I explained that Jack Kerouac, who was “a super important poet writer guy,” wrote some seven hundred haikus and that next to none of them followed The Pattern. They didn’t know who he was, but seemed consoled.

Some things I’ve learned in list form because we all love lists:

I need to bone up on my Simon Says skills. Really.

Transparency is best with kids. They’re really smart, and their intuitions are strong, so they know when you’re lying to them unnecessarily. Except about the mermaid in the basement. And no, you can’t meet her because she’s on vacation. And you can’t see her apartment/pool because she locks her door when she leaves because duh, who doesn’t lock their door when they leave on vacation?! But seriously, we’re gonna take a break in a second and you can go to the bathroom then, cool? Cool.

Reading is really hard. The English language isn’t intuitive at all.

On the topic of language, I really wish I would’ve taken Spanish. It’s just far and away more relevant to my work here. But I’m learning! Mariana is teaching me. She’s in first grade, and I already know how to say heart, chocolate, shoes, and ice cream!

Teaching is constant improvisation and flexibility is key. Did I mention that it’s exhausting?

I think that’s enough for now. I can post later with more info and some delightful anecdotes and maybe some pictures of me with an eyepatch on and a hook hand. I know you all want that.

This is a witty closing comment.

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