Old New York City photograph with Brooklyn bridge

Urban Writers

Urban Writers is a collection of personal narrative essays written by the 7th grade students of MS340 in Brooklyn, New York. The title is devised by the students of 730, reflective of the place they found themselves when tasked to navigate their sense of self in relationship to their environment. Working in conjunction with College Access for All, the purpose behind this residency was to prep students for the college essay writing process as they venture toward high school.

Click the image to read the full anthology!

What makes the college essay so important for an aspiring applicant is it provides the opportunity for students to communicate their emotional intelligence and self awareness. Unlike test scores and class grades, the ability to articulate and represent one’s self on paper is a practice that goes beyond the confines of a classroom. It is from this place of practice we approached the writing process together.

As a means of reducing the engrained aversion to the word “essay” and all that implies, the first five minutes of every class was spent free writing. Students were encouraged to write whatever they wanted, without worrying that their words would be collected and evaluated. Free of inhibitions, students were able to practice connecting with their natural voice. Every free write was followed by an inquiry: how did it feel for you today? In this way, students are not merely willing their colloquial voice to arise in their writing, but they are to actively consider their thoughts and feelings alongside the writing.

Reflection is aided by guidance, so we examined the work of other writers. Stand out college essays pulled from sources such as the New York Times, or the Johns Hopkins highlights list, were brought in to the classroom. As we sifted through the words and choices of these other young writers, more potential entry points became available. For example, one writer we read focused the environment she grew up in, inspiring some students to enter their writing from an environmental perspective. Another writer played with time, prompting us to create our own timelines, and investigate the threads of personal history. Above all students were asked to tap into material that makes them energized, to hone in on a pivotal moment change or passion. Ultimately, our work culminated in writing an essay response to the 2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts. For context, these prompts are listed on the following page. Some students titled the work, others didn’t, and no one was asked to indicate which prompt they were responding to. This explains the boundless array of topics written here. Also, some work included are excerpts of responses to the prompts.

None of this would have been possible without the utter willingness, support, and amenable collaboration of the 7th-grade teachers: Mrs. Katrina Banks, Mr. James Sydney, Mr. Andres Rodriguez, Mr. Dwight Reid, and Ms. Marjorie Richards. Without your kindness, advocacy, and classroom management, we would not have been able to write! My deepest gratitude also for Mrs. Candace Elliott for her facilitation of the program, and Principal Tamara Johnson for being such a skillful champion of her students. And of course, to the 7th graders of MS340 — what a pleasure to read your work. It is my deepest hope — more than anything — that you have tasted the gift of this practice of writing and reflecting, and that you carry it with you as a means of deepening your engagement with yourself and the world(s) you inhabit.

Alice Pencavel
Spring 2018


Featured Writing


by Mikaila T.
(7th grade)

Why does art make me complete? It makes me complete because
when I draw I am doing more than just drawing on a paper. I don’t have a
very wild imagination but when I draw I see everything in a different
perspective. Each of my drawing either stand for something or they
don’t. But art is important because art is something where you can truly
be yourself and show the people what you are going through by putting
pencil to paper.

Teachers & Writers Magazine

Teachers & Writers Collaborative: www.twc.org