New Writing Program is Launched for Young Advocates

Young, inspired writers can look to the Hudson Valley Writing Project (HVWP) for program opportunites every summer. HVWP offers a variety of writing programs at SUNY New Paltz,  local historic sites and nature preserves for writers ages seven to 17. They are adding a new program to begin this summer, “Rise Up and Write,” which will be funded in part by the Maya Gold Foundation.

Valerie Hughes had the idea for the program when she was sitting at a Saturday Seminar for HVWP.

“I looked around the room and saw the energy and advocacy of dozens of teachers,” Hughes said. “Here were people on their free time organizing, becoming informed and using their voice to advocate for causes they feel strongly about. I was inspired to bring that to groups of students.”

Hughes is a Teacher Consultant with HVWP, meaning that she is a teacher who has been through their year-long Invitational Institute. She will co-teach the program with Julia Ponder, a teacher at Bailey Middle School in Kingston.

Young adults are advocating everywhere. Hughes explained how the idea became increasingly more relevant after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. “I think the whole country was inspired by those teenagers and what they accomplished in the push for common sense gun reform,” Hughes said. Her students at New Paltz Middle School have also inspired her greatly.

“Rise Up and Write” will be actively encouraging students to advocate for what they truly believe in for this world. Those who enroll in the program will learn how to research, write with the authority to make change, look into important issues and learn what social justice means. 

“Rise Up and Write” reflects our commitments to social justice, equity and advocacy,” Hughes said.

The program hopes to show writers that their voice matters, even if they are young. It will aid in helping writers access their power and develop their voice while gaining confidence.

“Writers need opportunities to write about who they are, where they are and what they care about,” said Tom Meyers, director of HVWP. “In our programs, we honor that goal and invite students to try out different kinds of writing, while also paying attention to their own muses.”

None of this would have been possible without the help of the Maya Gold Foundation. Their website reads, “The mission of the Maya Gold Foundation is to empower youth to access their inner wisdom and realize their dreams.” The foundation was created by Elise Gold and Mathew Swerdloff after the death of their 15-year-old daughter Maya Gold, who was a student at New Paltz High School. 

Hughes had taught Gold when she was in seventh grade. “That year her talents, passion, creativity, and sense of justice stood out,” Hughes said. “From a very young age, Maya wanted to make a positive impact on the world.” The program is in her honor and HVWP is grateful for the startup grant.

The program will have its debut this summer starting on July 16 at SUNY New Paltz. It will run for five days, until July 20. Each day will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuition is $195. “We welcome everyone and financial assistance is always available,” Hughes said.

Over the week, students will be exploring different genres and learning how to implement that into advocating. Hughes also plans to bring in letter-writing, narrative, poetry, research-based writing and even social media postings. It is really up to the students to see where the curriculum will go. 

“This program will offer adolescents a chance to use writing to clarify and voice their views now,” Meyers said. “Our community needs their voices, opinions and energy to propel us forward in our local and wider rings of democracy.”