Preface of "Writing with At-Risk Youth"


Thank you, teachers and counselors, for all you do to help struggling young people. Thank you for your passion and caring.

You help youth adapt, learn, and grow in the midst of difficult lives. You enjoy the teens' energy and independence, and you are moved and attracted by their vulnerability. You work to make a difference.

But sometimes you may wish you could do more. You may regret the fact that many teens are caught in patterns of self-destructive behavior. You may wish that you could break through the teens' habits of mistrust and isolation. Sometimes, you may feel helpless or sad.

Also, you may have a sense about the potential value of teaching expressive writing in your work, which brought you here, but you may feel unclear where to begin.

This book describes a specific program for teaching and mentoring expressive writing by at-risk youth--a program that can generate transformative change in the teens, and generate significant new satisfactions for you.

When young people write personally and creatively, it helps them to overcome challenges in their lives. They feel better, think more clearly, are more self-confident, and are better able to relate to others, including their helpers. This personal creative process is enriching and enlivening for everyone. It brings emotional clarity and meaning to everyone. It brings closeness, in addition to learning and growth.

Welcome to the Pongo Teen Writing Method.

Who This Book Is For

This book is for anyone who wants of bring expressive writing to young people who've led difficult lives, to offer a range of emotional, relational, educational, and therapeutic benefits. The techniques in this book will help you teach writing to youth either one-on-one or in groups. You may be a special education teacher, a writer who wants to start a poetry program in a prison, a caseworker with homeless youth, the leader of a therapy group for trauma victims, a child therapist, a teacher who wants to start a poetry program in an alternative school, a healthcare worker. You may also be a professor or mentor of new teachers and counselors, who wants to teach new professionals how to be emotionally open in their work. Through poetry, new teachers and counselors can acquire not only an effective way to help youth, but also an effective way to learn from youth.

What You Will Learn

This book will teach you specific techniques for mentoring writing by youth. It makes no assumptions about the knowledge or experience you bring to this work to start, yet it presents a method that is new, emotionally deep, and subtle. It helps you understand the teens' emotional struggles after trauma, teaches you how to be with them in a helpful and supportive way to encourage writing, explains the particular benefits of poetry, and provides the skills for facilitating poetry. It tells you what to say to new young writers. It tells you how to organize a writing session, including a session in an institutional environment. It gives you writing activities to use.

In addition, the book tells you now to start and organize a new and independent writing project in a school, agency, or institutional setting. It tells you the important issues for keeping everyone safe. It explains the legal issues in publishing a book of teen poetry.

Why Is This Book Unique

This book is unique because it is based on the work of the Pongo Teen Writing Project, that has served 6,000 youth over 18 years. Pongo facilitates therapeutic personal poetry by youth in institutional settings, such as juvenile detention and a state psychiatric hospital. The consistent theme in our authors' writing is early childhood trauma. Our particular focus is on individual writers who have a hard time expressing themselves. Pongo's history and outcomes, including research, are explained in the book, to provide context for the techniques we teach.

In addition, Pongo has not only run its own projects, but it has taught hundreds of people the Pongo Teen Writing Method and has mentored highly successful writing projects on the Pongo model (called "duckling" projects). The information in this book has not only been used by Pongo for 18 years, but it has been communicated successfully to people like you.

How This Book Is Organized

You'll see the Table of Contents that this book has 15 chapters, and they proceed in a logical sequence. The book begins by explaining the emotional and intellectual context for the work, with chapters like "Childhood Trauma and the Benefits of Writing" (Chapter 1), "The Special Role of the Writing Mentor" (Chapter 3), and "The Pongo Approach to Teaching Poetry" (Chapter 5). It continues by explaining the structure of an independent poetry project, with chapters like "A Model Pongo Projects" (Chapter 6) and "Keeping Everyone Safe" (Chapter 7).

The book then explains techniques that are general to teaching poetry and also specific to either one-on-one work or group work with youth. Some examples of these chapters are "Introducing Poetry to Youth (Chapter 8), "Overview of the One-on-One Process" (Chapter 9), and "The Challenge of Group Process" (Chapter 14).

Where You Can Find Additional Support 

One advantage of this book is that Pongo's support for you doesn't end here. The Pongo web site contains teen poetry, 50 writing activities, additional information on Pongo techniques, a blog, and more. Pongo invites you to contact us through our web site. We offer trainings. We offer free phone consultation to people who are using the Pongo Teen Writing Method and who are starting projects on the Pongo model. We would like to offer you a Pongo community.