Out of Hand in the Best Way

Near West teacher Sarah Tribuzzo knows that sometimes an adult’s role in transformative learning is getting out of the way of a good idea.

So when her Applying Stage English-Language Arts students proposed wrapping up their fiction-writing unit with an awards ceremony, she stepped into the facilitator role and encouraged her class to take the lead on what would go down in Near West history as the first-ever Boscars—that is, of course, the Oscars for books.

After two months of lessons around character, dialogue, setting and other key components of fiction writing, along with intensive personalized instruction and coaching through revisions, Ms. Tribuzzo’s 16 students each had a story they were proud to submit for judging for the Boscars.

While Education Director Molly Toussant organized a panel of guest judges, Ms. Tribuzzo’s class divided themselves into committees to choreograph everything from musical accompaniment, stage management and photography to organizing a decadent spread and “Meet the Author” after party.

Student emcees took turns announcing the winners of each category – categories that included, “Shine a Light” for stories featuring social justice issues, “Best Disaster Story,” “Best Drama,” “All the Feels,” and “Most Un-Put-Downable.”

“I was almost reluctant to let this happen because I didn’t want to discourage the kids who wouldn’t win a Boscar—they had all worked so hard and all their stories were amazing,” Ms. Tribuzzo said. “But they were adamant, and at the end, because everyone came together to make the event happen, they all seemed really proud and gratified of the entire project. It was about so much more than just the awards.”

“The most remarkable thing was how invested they got in it,” Ms. Tribuzzo continued. “When you’ve worked hard on something, you know, we all know that feeling. They got to experience writing their story and being proud of it, but also having a lot of freedom and choice in this idea that got out of hand in the best way.”

“When you’ve worked hard on something, you know, we all know that feeling. They got to experience writing their story and being proud of it, but also having a lot of freedom and choice in this idea that got out of hand in the best way.”

The Characters We Root For

Ms. Tribuzzo’ students worked tirelessly with her to create characters that readers would want to root for—“round” characters rather than flat, with quirks, personalities and relationships that matter.

And in the end, they succeeded.

Ms. Tribuzzo was moved to tears by a few characters, and months after he sat on the judging panel, Friends of the Intergenerational Schools board member Kelly Lytle couldn’t stop thinking about the stories he had read.

He proposed the idea of putting his professional experience and connections to work to elevate the Boscars stories even further, by transforming the ten winning stories into an audiobook. Mr. Lytle had previously worked as a producer for a major audiobook production company, convinced his colleagues to volunteer as narrators, audio mixers and musicians to make the idea a reality.

“The kids freaked out. They were so excited,” said Ms. Tribuzzo, who had been sharing all the positive feedback she had been getting about the project with the class. The winner of Best Disaster Story proposed that Mariah Carey should narrate his story. Niko Antolik, whose grandmother taught him how to play piano beginning when he was six years old, mused that he could compose the musical introduction.

Mariah Carey doesn’t typically narrate audiobooks, but Kelly and the team did engage Niko to compose a melody for the audiobook, taking his inspiration from Debussy’s Children’s Corner, which evokes a wide array of moods, just as the Boscars collection does.

Mr. Lytle isn’t just a board member for Friends of the Intergenerational Schools. As a volunteer Learning Partner, he had spent the 2019-2020 school year meeting once a week with students to discuss readings and learn from one another. Getting to know Ms. Tribuzzo’s students through their stories, Mr. Lytle found himself rooting for them just as he rooted for the characters they created.

“It deepened so many relationships, that unit. So many of those stories were way deeper than they even grasped. They revealed so much of themselves in their stories,” Ms. Tribuzzo said. “It’s hard to put into words as a teacher. It’s just so cool and so special.”