Visit the Goodman South Madison Library on a Wednesday night. You’ll find volunteer teachers from the Greater Madison Writing Project coaching a dozen children in how to express themselves through writing and art. The children range in age from 9 to 16, and all have a parent, grandparent, or other relative in the UW-Madison Odyssey Project, a free college humanities course for adults facing adversity. Now it its 12th year, the Odyssey Project provides a jumpstart course for adults near the poverty level; but Odyssey Junior for their children is brand new.
“We provide infants and toddlers with daycare every Wednesday night while their parents are in our class,” explains Odyssey Project director Emily Auerbach “But we also wanted something for the older children that offered them enrichment and a sense of pride. We’re very excited about our new partnership with teachers and librarians.”
Deja Laongoen, Alayvia Jackson (right), and Maka Chikowero (foreground) work on writing projects in Odyssey Junior.
Alayvia Jackson, 16-year-old daughter of Odyssey Project graduate DeAngelo Jackson, ends a piece called “Where I’m From” with an acknowledgment of her past, present, and future:
. . . I am from a great-grandfather who worked his hardest until the day he died.
I am from his daughter, my grandma, who follows in his footsteps of hard work for what she loves.
I am from basketball and trophies. I am from injuries and persistence.
I am from a hard life but a very bright future.
Alayvia and other Odyssey Junior participants will see their poems, essays, drawings, and photos featured in an Odyssey Oracle Junior newsletter that showcases their gifts.
“Underneath my skin lie secrets,” writes Janiya Price, whose grandmother Jovenus Price graduated from the Odyssey Project. Janiya’s sister Jaleah calls herself “a timid young lady with dreams richer than gold.”
“I have been strong my whole life!” notes Jaayd Roquemore, daughter of current Odyssey student Jessi Hodges.
Jessi Hodge’s niece, Trinity Jackson-Hodges, writes, “If you only knew me, you would know that I would try to be your friend no matter what you look like or how you dress.”
Deja Laongoen, whose aunt Michelle Conley attends this year’s Odyssey class, adds, “Just as Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, I have a story.”
“I enrolled my three children into Odyssey Junior with the hopes that they would find their voice, like I found in Odyssey,” says Nissa Uriostegui, a current Odyssey student. “My children love this program and count down the days until Wednesday. My ultimate hope is that they will find joy in writing and learn what they are capable of doing in their writing.”
All the children have stories to tell, observe co-teachers Mark Dzeidzic, Gretchen McClain, Todd Lilly, and Jani Koester, who donate their time to the project.
“It’s supposed to be an enriching experience for the kids, and I think that it is,” says McClain. “But it enriches us teachers, too. Kids are kids, and they can be goofy or funny or thoughtful or silent–they can be a lot of things. But give them room to write and create, and they come up with some awesome and unique things to say. I love that about writing. I love that about kids.”
Odyssey Junior classes meet on Wednesday nights through the end of April and culminate in a printed volume and a performance.
To learn more about Odyssey Junior and the Odyssey Project, contact Emily Auerbach, firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-262-3733.