Inspiring a new generation of writers – Interview with the founder of Story Studio, Paisley Aiken.

 Becoming an Author - FriesenPress joins Story Studio to inspire young authors. 

Becoming an Author - FriesenPress joins Story Studio to inspire young authors. 

Paisley, what inspired you to start an organization like Story Studio?

Three of my greatest passions in life are kids, books and business and I have professional experience working in each of these areas. When my own kids started to venture into storytelling and writing on their own I began to think of different ways kids could be encouraged and supported through the writing and creative process. And then a friend sent me a link to a TED talks about 826 Valencia, an incredible organization that was founded in San Francisco by Dave Eggers, a bestselling writer. Victoria doesn’t have the size or density of San Francisco so I took the aspects of their program that I felt most passionate about, made some adaptations and that has become the foundation of the Story Studio. We started by offering small group paid for programming but after we were invited into a classroom to offer a workshop realized that this is where we could have the greatest impact. Since then we have registered as a charity and have worked in 25 classrooms around the city, and with over 700 kids through schools, small workshops and writing camps.

Watch Dave Eggers- 2008 TED Prize wish: Once Upon a School: 

 Tammara Kennelly (President of FriesenPress) & Brian Friesen (Sales & Marketing Manager) helping kids

Tammara Kennelly (President of FriesenPress) & Brian Friesen (Sales & Marketing Manager) helping kids

Tell us a bit more about what exactly Story Studio does.

In our school workshops an author and a team of volunteers go into each classroom three times to offer a project-orientated creative writing workshop. The workshops are very structured in order to teach kids the building blocks of creative writing, and ensure that the actually complete a story, but are open-ended so that the characters, settings and language used in the story are the kids’ own. Workshops are tailored for students from kindergarten through to grade 8 and they use fun, tactile and interactive activities to reinforce each writing stage or concept. When their stories are complete we type, edit and bind them into books that they can keep and bring home to share.

 Story Studio Founder Paisley Aiken

Story Studio Founder Paisley Aiken

Why is story telling so important?

Story telling, and creative writing is critical on so many levels. It helps build self-identity and awareness, imagination, creative skills, introduces tools to navigate emotional development, helps develop confidence and improves communication skills.

Statistically we see literacy levels falling in our youth and interest in literacy falling. The Department of Education highlighted autonomy in learning as one of the most important aspects of improving kids’ motivation to learn. However, teachers have told us that it is almost impossible to teach creative writing to an entire class of students. Regardless of how talented a teacher is he or she simply can’t offer the support necessary for a full class of kids all at very different levels. When we come in with a specialized workshop and a team of volunteers each student is supported and given individual attention
and feedback that allows them to successfully tell their own story. This in turn motivates the kids to keep writing, keep telling stories, see themselves and hopefully build a rich relationship with literacy.

 Story Studio coach Korina Miller Helping kids to tell their stories

Story Studio coach Korina Miller Helping kids to tell their stories

What's the process of selecting schools for your activities?

For the 2013/2014 we are offering public schools three full three-session workshops. It may be possible to do more if they find their own funding. The public schools we are committed to either approached us first, or are ones with more at-risk youth.

What is the most rewarding thing about working with kids and their stories?

What remains quite constant across the grade levels and demographics is the pride and ownership the kids feel in their books. I have received lots of emails from parents saying how proud their kids were to share their books.

Sometimes we have had very difficult subjects come out from the stories; for example, kids working through anger, violence and bullying. Some of the kids use their stories to process quite difficult lives.

 FriesenPress President Tammara Kennelly helping kids

FriesenPress President Tammara Kennelly helping kids

For me probably the most rewarding response is when we are working with a child who does not believe in their own ability, and who, at the beginning of the workshop is slouched down and hardly participating. To then watch that student become energized by the process and see their little smirk of satisfaction and pride when they realize what they have created is inspiring. Those kids keep me going and I find them in nearly every class.

Do you get enough support from parents, teachers and the community for these projects?

 Brian Friesen helping out kids

Brian Friesen helping out kids

One of the best parts of the Story Studio has been building community. We have a wonderful board and are building community contacts and partners such as the fantastic team at FriesenPress!

We have teachers and educators constantly contacting us, which is wonderful. But we are always on the lookout for really reliable volunteers to work with the kids or to help type, or for organizations that wouldn’t mind giving a few hours a month, or bi-monthly or even semi-annually to type some stories.

And of course there is always the complication of funding. We have had some corporate organizations, such as RBC, AbeBooks and the Q step in and be initial supporters, as well as some charitable organizations such as the Rotary and some private donors. But we are still a ways from making it sustainable long-term. We have just introduced a monthly sponsorship program to make it viable for individuals and small businesses to sponsor a child’s workshops and book production for $33/month. So we will see what happens!

 Publishing Consultant Matt Begg with a young author

Publishing Consultant Matt Begg with a young author

The FriesenPress team is so excited to be volunteering for classroom activities. What do you think of our involvement with Story Studio?

I think this is absolutely wonderful! The folks at FriesenPress came into the classroom and were so natural and positive with the kids. The synergy felt electric. With older kids it is a tremendous opportunity for mentorship as students see these caring and positive people in their community having literacy-oriented careers. It opens their minds to what is possible and makes them feel worthwhile when successful people are open to giving time to help them develop their thoughts and literacy skills.

If anyone else wants to help your organization, how can they get in touch with you? What kind of support are you looking for from the community?

Please email me at paisley@storystudio.ca. As I mentioned we are looking for individuals, or businesses, who are interested in volunteering in the classrooms, helping with typing stories or

supporting the project financially. We are also very open to collaborating on fund-raising initiatives!

Interviewed & Photographed by: Rasanga Weerasinghe
Edited by: Julia Dilon-Davis