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826 Boston: Helping Students Find Their Voice Through Writing

By Jessica Drench, Executive Director, 826 Boston

Photo of poet Agnes Ugoji When Agnes Ugoji first came to an 826 Boston Writers' Room at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science as a ninth grader, she did not think of herself as a writer. Then she joined the slam poetry team, wrote and revised poems alongside her peers and an 826 Boston coach, and gained confidence in her exquisite gifts as a poet.

Agnes has performed her original poems on multiple stages, including two galas with hundreds of people in the audience. At the 826 Boston Night of 1,000 Stories event last May, there was a Boston Globe journalist in attendance who later called to ask if she could reprint Agnes’s poem online.

Agnes came in first place out of the 230 youth poets at the Massachusetts Louder Than A Bomb competition and was flown to Washington, D.C., to represent our state. She was named to the 30 under 30 list by The Improper Bostonian, and most recently, to the 150 most influential women of Boston series by YW Boston.

And this BPS 11th grader, a child of immigrant parents from Nigeria, is just getting started.

Agnes is one of the 4,000 students we serve at 826 Boston. I share her story because it is unique, and a cause for celebration, and also to spotlight a distinct example of how students at 826 Boston have the opportunity to write their paths forward when they are given a safe and creative space, and the trained, caring support to do so. All of the students who are published in 826 Boston's beautiful collections open the pages of their books to see themselves and their stories celebrated. This sends a vivid and critical message that their voices matter.
"Through writing, and the sharing of stories,
my students became a community"

As a former ELA and special education teacher in the Boston Public Schools, I worked on the craft of writing day in and day out with my classes. I also got to know my students through the stories that they drafted in their writers’ notebooks. Through writing, and the sharing of stories, my students became a community. At 826 Boston, we partner with inspiring teachers who can take their vision for writing in their classrooms even further with the support of 826 Boston’s tutors and publishing resources. Our vision is to raise a community of writers, together.

Learn more about how you can join with 826 Boston to encourage young writers.

Jessica Drench is the Executive Director of 826 Boston, a nonprofit writing center in Roxbury. A Boston native, she earned a B.A. in English from Brown and an M.A. in Teaching English from Columbia Teachers College, and is a certified English and Special Education teacher. Jessica began her career teaching high school ELA at the McKinley School, a program for at-risk youth in the Boston Public Schools. In 2013, Jessica attended the Institute of Nonprofit Management and Executive Leadership at Boston University. She brings 10 years of non-profit leadership to her work at 826 Boston.