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.