Written by Piper Daleiden, Hope College English and Psychology Major, Student Managing Editor for the English Department

What role does a creative writing major play in a project focused on child development and education? This was one of Samuel Vega’s questions when he first joined a group of Hope students and faculty, as well as staff from Ready for School, on a project titled “Stories of Equity and Hope.” Samuel, a ’22 Hope graduate, worked alongside Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño, Dr. Jesus Montaño, Dr. Susanna Childress, Carole Chee, Esther Turahirwa, and Paris Patterson. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the goal of this grant project was to hear people’s stories about children’s educational needs. For the team, this involved conducting countless hours of interviews with a wide variety of people from the community. During the first phase, the team listened to the stories and experiences of parents, but they later brought in the insights of professionals and other members of the community. Samuel explained: “We were just trying to cast a wider net, to hear stories and learn from a different group of people.” Integrating these two groups allowed the project to be as informed as possible about children’s educational needs and experiences within the community.

Hope Storygatherers: Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño with students Carole Chee (English / Women’s and Gender Studies), Samuel Vega ’22 (English – Creative Writing), Esther Turahirwa (Psychology/Business), Paris Patterson (Education/ ESL endorsement)
Ready for School Annual Breakfast:
Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño (Hope – Spanish/English)  Dr. Llena Chavis (Hope – Sociology/Social Work) , Samuel Vega ’22 (English – Creative Writing), Esther Turahirwa (Psychology/Business), and Dr. Susanna Childress(Hope – English)  .

Beyond listening to people’s experiences, the “Stories of Equity and Hope” project also
intends to share these stories with others. This process is taking two forms: a podcast and a collection of mini-libraries. The podcast aired this fall and allows listeners to hear from people of diverse backgrounds about moments of achievement and obstacles in children’s education. The mini-libraries will be located in various spots throughout the Holland community and will specifically include books that allow more children to see themselves represented.

Storygathering session – Ready for School staff Donna Lowry and Bill Badran, Hope student Esther Turahirwa, Storyteller Patrick Johnson, and Dr. Llena Chavis (Hope – Sociology/Social Work) 
Mini-library for Habitat new homeowners

For Samuel, this project has helped him grow as a writer and as a person. At the start, he was unsure of how his creative writing skills would connect with the project’s focus on development and education. As Samuel began to conduct interviews, he realized that a good writer must begin by first being a good listener. This project certainly cultivated his listening skills by putting him in the position to listen to and learn from people with many different perspectives. He grew increasingly comfortable during the interviews, and he even described how he was “able to connect with people on a bit of a deeper, sometimes more casual level than before.” Samuel emphasized that he and his teammates also learned to welcome being surprised, as people’s experiences are multifaceted and unique. Rather than expecting the interviews to follow a similar pattern, the team learned to embrace any tangents and additional thoughts that people wanted to add to the conversation.

Additionally, the project became more meaningful for Samuel as he recognized the
tangible ways in which it would help the community. In his role, he would “listen to people so that in the future Ready for School can help prepare children for even that first day of kindergarten.” He saw that gathering these stories can support parents and professionals as they seek to provide every child with an education that will meet their unique needs.

Interested to learn more? Listen to the podcast and hear Samuel discuss his experience on
episode 3; connect with Ready for School on Facebook; or read on about “Stories of Equity and Hope” and other Hope-Community partnerships.

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