Every year, scores of new kids discover The Story Pirates Podcast or experience one of our popular in-school creative writing programs that are granted for free to Title I classrooms across the country. Tens of thousands of them are inspired to send us their own original stories. We’re honored to receive them and, in turn, we're committed to making sure that each young author receives a positive, personalized response. The goal is to encourage these young authors to keep writing. We call this initiative Story Love.
By far the biggest challenge to Story Love in the past few years has been the advent of COVID-19. Story Love largely relies upon the collection of stories from our workshop programming taught directly in classrooms, many of them in Title I schools.
Stories fuel the Story Love initiative. With schools closed, how could we continue to collect stories that could then be loved and returned?
First, we offered a wave of virtual assemblies that were offered at low or no cost to schools in need. These assemblies were performed live by Story Pirates cast members via videoconference. The assemblies, known as Story Creation Zones, were intended to get students excited about writing. We then invited classrooms to submit stories electronically. A whole new system of collection had to be created for this, since pre-COVID, stories had been collected directly within schools by our teaching artists. Stories could be submitted via form either by families whose children were learning remotely, or by teachers whose students had returned to the classroom.
The second challenge was retooling the process of loving and returning stories. Prior to COVID-19, physical stories collected from schools were loved entirely during in-person events with corporate sponsors, using paper and pens.
The Story Love team worked tirelessly to create an entirely new system of uploading and digitally logging stories within an online database. Then, these scans were made available online to volunteers via our website. Volunteer events shifted to online videoconferences, where volunteers could read the scanned stories that had been individually assigned to them. The Story Love team developed a submission form where volunteers could leave typed or handwritten feedback for authors. Those notes were then returned electronically to classrooms via email.
Story Love has been a resounding success this year to date. We’ve held a total of 94 volunteer events with 14 top-tier companies to help us reach even more under-resourced kids. 1,865 volunteers have helped us to write 8,160 notes that we have been continuously sending back to authors. Since 2020, over 18,000 volunteers have written 61,641 notes. Despite the disruption of COVID-19, we have continued to successfully maintain this program and leave no story unloved.
We have learned that when a caring adult tells a kid that their words and ideas matter, that kid will believe them and work to improve their own literacy . As Story Love has grown, we have also been able to reach exponentially more kids, provide meaningful volunteer opportunities to our corporate partners, and raise valuable funding to ensure our programs remain accessible.