For Doug Keller, executive director of Big Class, the classroom isn’t a space where students go to forget about the world. It’s the opposite. Big Class aims to engage their writers (ages 6-18) in the community in as many ways as possible. This could mean poems on a pizza box or one of their programs, such as “It’s Lit: Words on Ice,” which is a youth mobile writing center that provides snoballs with students’ writings on them.
As Keller explains, “Writing is a community-based practice.” The idea at Big Class is that writers interact with their community in various ways in order to share ideas, and think through concepts or issues in the community. Once the writer has their individual, alone time to write the piece, they then come back and share that writing with the community.
That doesn’t mean that Big Class is always on the go. Since its beginning in 2010, Big Class has been a place where students can go to.
“We started as a classroom project. I had 43 first graders in my class, hence the name Big Class,” Keller says. The end project for this first class was a publication of the students’ writings.”We published a book from the first graders. That was the catalyst for Big Class becoming an organization.”
Teachers read the publication, and started reaching out to Big Class. They wanted and needed writing programs in their schools, and that is where Big Class stepped in. In 2016, they had a call out to teachers to apply for Big Class volunteers to come into the class and work toward the goal of creating a publication for their students. From elementary school all the way up to high school, Big Class helps teachers structure and organize lessons so that students are all working toward the common, collaborative goal of writing and publishing.
From classrooms to workshops, and writing on-the-go, you would think that Big Class’s plate is overflowing. It may be, but that doesn’t stop the organization from developing even more community and student-focused programs. Their workshops and projects have so many students that they have been moving toward opening a youth writing center, which Big Class will launch in the 7th Ward. When the center opens, Big Class will become 826 New Orleans, joining the 826 National network as the first chapter in the South.
“We are also working toward opening a store,” Keller says. “It’s called the New Orleans Haunting Supply Company.” It will be the storefront of the writing center. It will have corporeal dust, flickering lightbulbs, creaky floorboards, and it will also include student publications that will be for sale. “The uniting thing [for all our spaces] is space for individuals and space for collaboration.”
In New Orleans, we all know that collaboration with ghosts is always a good idea.
“It’s the most haunted city in America,” Keller says, laughing, “so we are serving a need.” Big Class serves the need of more than ghosts and supplies for ghosts. This will be a space where writing, students, and the community can flourish.
Big Class’s annual fund raiser, “A Dark and Stormy Night,” is back for year three, and schedule for Thursday, October 5. Tickets are on available here, and this year’s edition is hosted by DJ Soul Sister, and features: a ghost story reading from a handful of our students and a welcome from Walter Isaacson during the patron hour; a pop-up Haunting Supply Co.; a ghost story cocktail contest featuring eight of the city’s best bars; a dynamic auction (ghost stories read by George Saunders or Kiese Laymon, a notebook created by local artists, fancy dinners, etc.), a costume contest judged by DJ Soul Sister, music by DJ RQ Away, and much much more. For more information about Big Class, you can check them out here.