More than 100 writing educators from across the Garden State gathered in Brookdale’s Student Life Center on May 25 for the 17th annual New Jersey Writing Alliance (NJWA) Conference, a day-long series of workshops and networking opportunities designed to foster growth, collaboration and student success at the high school and college levels.
The 2016 conference, titled “Writing Across Boundaries,” focused on breaking down the wide range of barriers that can stand between today’s students and their academic goals.
From the boundaries between academic disciplines and those between students of varying socioeconomic backgrounds to the boundaries that exist between high school and college, conference speakers and workshop leaders proposed a variety of novel strategies to engage students both in and out of the classroom.
Brookdale Humanities Institute Dean Carl Calendar opened the program by discussing some of the college’s unique partnerships and transfer programs, including two recently announced higher education initiatives that will expand opportunities for local high school students and create a new, seamless pathway from associate to bachelor’s to master’s degree, all in one location.
Calendar was followed by NJWA President Kristie-Anne Opaleski-DiMeo, who welcomed the group of high school and college educators and encouraged them to take advantage of some of the more than 20 workshops offered throughout the day.
Presentations were hosted by representatives from a wide range of schools, including Rutgers, Georgian Court, Monmouth and Rider universities, multiple area high schools and by Brookdale employees Sheri Stanford, Shanna Williams and adjunct English professor Barbara Burke. Brookdale employees Dolores Palazzo, Mary Ann Kerwin and Sheri Stanford also served as site coordinators for the conference.
The program also featured a keynote address by acclaimed author and High Tech High teacher Brian Mooney, who welcomed three former pupils to share some of their spoken word poetry and highlighted his successes in incorporating hip hop into his North Bergen classroom.
The students – Benjamin Vook, Hamza Qureshi and Ashley Johnson – read works about their hometowns, their personal experiences and even the movies, songs and poems that had made an impact on them, speaking passionately and confidently about the beauty of the world they live in and the ways in which it has failed them.
Those poems, Mooney said, were largely the result of learning in a nontraditional classroom environment, where students were not treated as “empty vessels” to be filled, but as equal participants in a literary dialogue about art, culture and personal identity.
“They are a testament to the kind of thing that can happen when teachers get out of the way and don’t always have to be the authority,” Mooney said, “when students’ knowledge, expertise and experience is privileged in a space that we help build.”
Check out more photos of the 2016 NJWA Conference here.
Learn more about English and creative writing programs available at Brookdale by visiting the Humanities Institute webpage.