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Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Mar 02, 2016

Just Launched: The All City StorySLAM

by Inga Glodowski

To meet an increasing demand for “more Moth” from new students and alums, this past weekend we launched The Moth All City StorySLAM. By providing a unique opportunity outside of school for students to feel supported be brave and reflect on their lives and identities, it is our hope that “All City” will enable young people to come together across boroughs and backgrounds to build a more connected and compassionate New York City.

Yesterday our Director of Development Inga Glodowski sat down with Education Program managers, Micaela Blei and Catherine McCarthy, to learn more about the All City StorySLAM specifically, and our Education Program in general. Below please find an excerpt from our conversation.

Inga Glodowski: Tell me a little about yourselves. How did you get involved in The Moth Education Program?

Catherine McCarthy: I had been working as a producer at The Moth for two years when [Moth founder] George Dawes Green came to me with the idea to start the High School StorySLAM.  As a former classroom teacher and instructor in our Community Program, I leapt at the chance to create a new program for young people to explore their own identities through story. We managed to get the seed money, and I started to design the pilot. The best decision I ever made was asking Micaela Blei to join as my co-teacher! After that first workshop, we knew we were onto something special, and we got to work building the Education Program.

Micaela Blei: I’d been a classroom teacher in my previous life, and then in 2011 I discovered telling stories at Moth SLAMs. When I first discovered The Moth, I thought, “I want to help teach this!” I became a volunteer in workshops and soon after that Catherine asked me to help her launch the High School StorySLAM. It was kind of a revelation— what could happen when students helped each other craft stories, how much they became a team, what they learned about themselves and each other. We’ve been working together and growing the program ever since.

IG: Where did the idea for the All City SLAM come from?

MB: At the end of every semester we have a GrandSLAM storytelling show featuring students from from all our schools where 10 students who don’t know each other get together to rehearse and share their stories on a Moth stage. They love meeting each other so much and become such a strong team! So we wondered if there was a way to create those kinds of bonds among kids from different schools during the course of a semester.

At the same time, the complex schedules of each individual school limit how many schools we can get to in a week, and we really wanted to reach an even wider variety of neighborhoods, schools and students.

CM: One day, we were discussing this challenge with our board member and advocate Alice Gottesman, and she said: “What if you brought the students to you? It sounded like a great idea.  We’ve already seen how storytelling can bring a school community together, and now we’re excited to see what it looks like to build a city-wide network of empathetic, reflective young people.

IG: How did you recruit the students?

MB: We had an online application that we shared with many of our education partners all over the city, as well as on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Then we invited teachers from all over NYC to bring their students to see our GrandSLAM last December. This let students see what it really looks like to get up and tell a story. A lot of kids went home and applied that night! We accepted 24 students from 11 schools for this pilot of the program.

IG: The first session was held over the weekend. What surprised you the most?

CM: Well, we’ve never run a Saturday program before, so we were really nervous that our kids wouldn’t show up. The first pleasant surprise was that we had two full teams!! Not only that, but they were all really energetic and excited to be there.

MB: I was surprised how easily people got comfortable with each other. There was a fun, supportive team dynamic from minute one.

IG: What are you most looking forward to as the workshop unfolds?

CM: I’m really excited to see how students choose to use this space outside of school. I remember in high school, I was desperate to have friends who didn’t go to my school —  friendships that weren’t tied to my school’s particular social codes or hierarchies.  I look forward to seeing our students making connections to each other— perhaps even discovering that they have surprising things in common with other young people whom they would otherwise have no opportunity to meet.

MB: Me too, that’s it exactly! I’m looking forward to that summer-camp feeling — you know, no one understands you like your camp friends. We should probably have a Moth summer camp, come to think of it.

And of course I’m so looking forward to working on stories with the students. Every time we do a workshop, it’s such a beautiful process— and seeing a shy student take a risk with some truth, or a theatrical student give herself permission to do the silly voices — it’s the best!

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Micaela and Catherine with All City students at their first workshop on Saturday.

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Photo taken by All City Teaching Intern Alfonso Lacayo.

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