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A Different Kind of Cool Kid: The Writopia Effect

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In yesterday’s post, Why Nerds Are Unpopular, I talked about the need to tell kids struggling with school social life that things gets better in the real world. Many thoughtful parents commented that kids live in the here and now, and either don’t believe or don’t care that one day life will improve.

So what does make a difference, right this minute?

The same thing that works for grown-ups: finding and nurturing a passion. Once children become immersed in the thing they love to do, the thing they’re naturally good at, they feel a sense of mastery and excitement — and they meet like-minded peers.

For some kids, this is easy: their passions are mainstream enough that pursuing them propels them right into the center of local social life.  The soccer team. The student newspaper. The dance troupe. In that case, the question sometimes becomes how to manage the fruits of popularity without feeling overwhelmed. One sixth grader I know had to think long and hard about which table to frequent in the school cafeteria. She was welcome with the popular kids at the “crazy table”, but preferred the “chill table” where her quieter friends congregated.  Eventually, with her mom’s help, she decided to make the quiet table her base but to visit the other table when she felt like it.

Other kids have passions that are so unusual, or solitary, or both, that their very interests seem to isolate them further. Programming. Chess. Creative writing. But these children can also find peers by searching out places to share their “quiet” interests. 

One great example comes from my friend Rebecca Wallace-Segall, who has created an awe-inspiring organization called Writopia Lab. Writopia is a New York City-based, national creative writing community for kids and teens. It offers small-group workshops in which up to six kids meet regularly with a dedicated writing coach, and perfect each other’s stories and plays. It just won a $50,000 grant from David Letterman to stage a week of plays by Writopia playwrights!

One of the many incredible things about Writopia is that it offers an alternative social universe for quiet and cerebral kids. Its vibe is serious yet edgy, inclusive yet cool. The students who sign up for Writopia, Rebecca told me, “are often not the kids who are willing to talk for hours about fashion and celebrity. Those kids are less likely to come, perhaps because they’re less inclined to analyze and dig deep. That’s not their comfort zone. The so-called shy kids are often hungry to brainstorm ideas, deconstruct them, and act on them, and, paradoxically, when they’re allowed to interact this way, they’re not shy at all. They’re connecting with each other, but in a deeper zone, in a place that’s considered boring or tiresome by some of their peers.”

And these children do “come out” when they’re ready; most of the Writopia kids read their work aloud at local bookstore events, and a staggering number win prestigious national writing competitions.  This photo shows Rebecca — who’s a kind of fairy godmother for budding intellectuals — leading a reading at Barnes & Noble:

Rebecca1 A Different Kind of Cool Kid: The Writopia Effect

And here she is again with some more Writopia kids:

readingcrowd A Different Kind of Cool Kid: The Writopia Effect

If this post sounds like a plug for Writopia, it is, but only because I believe in it so fervently.  And because I want to collect examples of other organizations or activities that  bring together kids with seemingly cerebral and solitary interests.

If you know of any, or if your child has had positive experiences by following his or her passions, please share!


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4 Comments

  1. Lisa Pliscou on 27.02.2011 at 12:34 (Reply)

    Beautiful and inspiring! I look forward to reading QUIET!

  2. Susan on 27.02.2011 at 15:40 (Reply)

    Thank you, Lisa!

  3. Melissa on 28.02.2011 at 11:23 (Reply)

    Enjoyed this post.

  4. [...] post, “What Teachers Really Think of Quiet Kids,” and its follow-up, “A Different Kind of Cool Kid,” generated passionate reactions across the Internet. Many of you responded with heartbreaking [...]

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