The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY MICHAEL ALI­SON CHAN­DLER book­world@wash­

The Columbia Heights tu­tor­ing cen­ter that fea­tures di­nosaur bones, uni­corn tears and its own cave is clos­ing at the end of the sum­mer.

But don’t fear, 826DC is not go­ing far. The cen­ter is re­open­ing in a larger space across the street— and it’s plan­ning to keep grow­ing so it can serve more stu­dents in the Dis­trict.

Gone, though, will be the Mu­seum of Un nat­u­ral History that has en­ticed kids into the cen­ter for the past five years, promis­ing more than home­work help. The news­pace will have a dif­fer­ent theme that the or­ga­ni­za­tion has yet to un­veil.

Joe Cal­la­han, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of 826DC, said that he hopes to find some­thing with the same whim­si­cal ap­peal. “We want to get kids into a cre­ative mind-set,” he said.

In the five years since the writ­ing cen­ter opened, it has grown steadily. Dur­ing the past school year, 826DC reached nearly 4,400 stu­dents through its af­ter-school tu­tor­ing, writ­ing work­shops and classes. Next year, it aims to serve more than 5,000 stu­dents.

With three new full-time staff mem­bers com­ing on board, the cur­rent store­front is push­ing ca­pac­ity.

The news­pace is in the for­mer mez­za­nine of the his­toric Tivoli Theatre. The street-level en­trance leads to a mar­ble stair­case. Mu­rals vis­i­ble through of­fice win­dows and crown mold­ing sug­gest a 1920s-era grandeur.

Cal­la­han said that he looked at 277 of­fice spa­ces for a year and a half be­fore the space be­came avail­able. 826DC op­er­ates a va­ri­ety of pro­grams. Its af­ter-school tu­tor­ing draws in as many as 40 stu­dents a day. The or­ga­ni­za­tion also hosts field trips, where school­child­ren can cre­ate their own books.

One morn­ing this week, sec­ond-graders from Noyes Ed­u­ca­tion Cam­pus sat cross­legged on an ori­en­tal rug writ­ing a story to­gether. The chil­dren had de­cided on main char­ac­ters— DJ and Diamond— both lions— and they needed a set­ting. “Think of a land that is com­pletely made-up,” said Kevin Seefried, a writer and part-time staff mem­ber. A pro­fes­sional il­lus­tra­tor was also on hand.

The stu­dents started brain­storm­ing: “A Mon­ster Land,” “A Spy Land,” “A Money Land.” Af­ter a vote, they fi­nally set­tled on “Sweet Cho­co­late Candy Land.”

By the end of the two-hour trip, they would bring home copies of il­lus­trated books that they wrote to­gether.

The pro­grams are mod­eled af­ter 826 Va­len­cia Street— named for the ad­dress of the first cen­ter in San Fran­cisco’s Mis­sion Dis­trict that was co-founded by au­thor Dave Eg­gers and ed­u­ca­tor Nínive Cale­gari. Now, seven cities have sim­i­lar pro­grams.

Work­shops and projects pair pro­fes­sional writ­ers with teach­ers and stu­dents in schools. For one­pro­ject at the Dis­trict’s Wood row Wil­son High School this year, 96 writ­ers worked with as many stu­dents to pro­vide weekly feed­back on nov­els the stu­dents were writ­ing.

A food-writ­ing class at Cap­i­tal City Public Char­ter School led to a book of recipes and sto­ries writ­ten by stu­dents. And stu­dents at SEED Public Char­ter School worked with vol­un­teer writ­ers to study short-story telling and to write and pub­lish their own book. Jill Bi­den hosted their book re­lease party at the vice pres­i­dent’s house.

“Ev­ery teen writes,” Cal­la­han said. “If they re­ally have a de­sire to have their voice heard, we will treat them like pro­fes­sion­als.”

By promis­ing a qual­ity prod­uct in the end, he said, they be­come more in­vested in the process. “They want to re­write and to edit. They be­come more in­ter­ested in writ­ing,” he said.


Ellen Tay­lor helps Isis Perla, 9, back, Julie Baiza, 8, and 2-year-oldMaria Fer dig for prizes in a trunk filled with sand at 826 DC, a writ­ing and tu­tor­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion that is mov­ing to a new space in the Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights.

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