Getting people—children and teens, especially—to read and write is Lyn Jones' passion. As an English professor, Jones has more than 20 years' experience teaching and conducting research on writing and literacy. She now goes out of her way to find unique opportunities outside the classroom for her students to explore her profession.
Jones hired a team of Ball State students as interns to assist with a project in May 2013 helping at-risk students ages 6 to 16 write their memoirs. The work was offered to them through Jones' position as education outreach director at the Indiana Writers Center (IWC) in Indianapolis. A nonprofit specializing in educational opportunities for writers, IWC provides outreach programs to schools and other organizations in the community. The program the students and Jones worked on is called Building a Rainbow.
"These kids didn't just write about the teddy bear they lost that one time,” Jones says. “They took it to the next level, writing about topics like a deceased family members or divorced parents.
For business major William Lagunas, ’14, volunteering for the project took him back to his own childhood.
"I felt a connection with this program. I come from a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles; many of the kids we work with have similar issues to the ones I had growing up," he says. "I became very good friends with a number of them and even helped with questions about their personal lives."
After working all summer to gather the children and teenagers' stories, the Ball State students produced the book I Remember: Indianapolis Youth Writer about Their Lives. Proceeds from book sales benefit Building a Rainbow, which Jones oversees on an annual basis.
Work on the I Remember book proved to be a huge commitment for Jones' students. They invested hundreds of hours over the course of three months helping these children and teens—most of whom are Latino, African-American or from Indianapolis' south side communities—write about people, places and significant events in their lives.
Despite the challenges of working with younger students, English education major Brett Hiatt, ’14, felt connected.
"My role was to sit at a table with the kids and listen to their stories. I got used to reading children's handwriting, thinking their grammar is perfect and their sentence structure is correct. Basically, I became a kid again," Hiatt said.
The interns go through the entire process from receiving the grant to editing the final manuscript before publishing. They guide the students in writing prompts that are included in the back of the book. Corrie Herron, who graduated in May 2013 with a degree in secondary English education, participated in the program for two years.
"The most challenging part was getting the kids who hate writing to let go and enjoy it. Most of the kids see writing as only purposeful in school," Herron says.
Jones said opportunities like Building a Rainbow help her three roles as teacher, writer, and activist intersect—allowing her teaching to go beyond the classroom.
"If I tell my students to go out and get a job or change the world, I better be doing the same," Jones says.
Her philosophy was evident to Lagunas, "Dr. Lyn taught me one thing: one can never be too involved in anything and true dedication can accomplish so much in so little time.”