By Erin Cohn, Edit Intern


“When a student sees their ideas manifested in a physical publication, they learn that through hard work, determination, and opportunity, they are able to turn their ideas into a reality.”

826 New Orleans, formerly called Big Class, is committed to facilitating and amplifying youth voices through the written word. In 2010, Doug Keller, co-founder and now executive director, was a first grade teacher to a class of 43 students who took on an incredible, creative book publishing project. Together, Doug and his students created the first Big Class publication.

After seven years, Big Class caught the attention of the national 826 network and became its first southern chapter. Offering programs at their new Youth Writing Center located in the 7th Ward, as well as in schools across the city, has enabled 826 New Orleans to have a truly phenomenal impact.

With the help of 826 leadership, the New Orleans chapter serves about 2,000 students annually. And, because every program ends in publication, the organization has published over 100 students’ works (with the aid of over 400 volunteers) since its founding. Students, parents, and teachers overwhelmingly report an increase in writing skills and academic performance as a result of their programs.

In addition to the improvements made in literacy outcomes, 826 New Orleans has made leaps and bounds in shifting the attitudes of countless students. For many students, writing can be an intimidating task. But more often than not after working with 826 New Orleans, either through one-on-one homework help during After School at the Center or a six-month in-school Young Authors Book Project, reluctance to write gradually turns to affinity, confidence, and pride.

The organization’s main project space, the Youth Writing Center, functions as an open, collaborative space for all young writers. This includes members of the Young Writers’ Council; high school students who identify as “emerging writers, activists and changemakers” and take part in a rigorous publishing process. A notable publication of the Young Writers’ Council is There Is No School Without Us, a literary conversation between current teachers and students from first to twelfth grade around the conditions of education in New Orleans.

While there are many debates surrounding the New Orleans school system, very infrequently do we hear from those who are impacted most—the students. This book exemplifies the mission at 826’s core; protect and uplift young voices. There Is No School Without Us is activism through writing. More than just a program, 826 New Orleans is a launching pad for change.

1750 St. Bernard Ave., New Orleans, LA 70116 • 504.930.4412


Erin Cohn is an edit intern at Nola Family magazine.

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