Partner Teacher Interview: Amy Dickerson

"I hope the voices of my students read loud and clear to everyone, just like they do to me."

We caught up with Courageous, Eccentric, Diverse partner teacher Amy Dickerson to discuss the book's process, some surprising moments, and what she hopes readers take away from her students' book. 


1. How did the concept for this project come about?

During the controversy surrounding the removal of the statues last spring, I wondered what my students would think if they had a say in the process. Generally, I think people don't give enough credit to kids, and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to express their views of what they thought was important to New Orleans and to them. 

Ms. Amy and published writer Boris at the Courageous, Eccentric, Diverse publishing party and reading.

Ms. Amy and published writer Boris at the Courageous, Eccentric, Diverse publishing party and reading.

2. How did you introduce this project to your students? What were their initial ideas for new monuments/thoughts on the project?

We started the project with reflecting on our own identity and generating adjectives to describe ourselves. Students studied the artist Nick Cave, who creates wearable pieces of art called Soundsuits that express his identity and views on social justice. My class created their own Soundsuits to match their adjectives and send a message through their art about their identity. After that initial step, it was easy to introduce the removed monuments, what they stood for and meant to people on both sides of the argument for and against them, and students truly understood why they were removed. We then took the idea about identity one step further and began to think about the identity of New Orleans by asking, "How can we, as citizens of New Orleans, express the identity of our city through new monuments?" and generating ideas for cultural touchstones that would project the positive identity they wanted.

3. Where there any surprising moments during this project?

There are always surprising moments in the classroom, and this project was no exception. I was so thrilled to see how much my students cared about this project and how important they felt it was. Watching them take ownership of their particular subject, be excited to research, and find a new appreciation for something in their city, was incredibly cool as a teacher. The most surprising moment, though, was when they saw their book for the first time. I've never seen so much genuine excitement and pride in my years of teaching, and I've noticed that even now, months later, many of them carry their copy of the book around with them or keep it in their desk to read when they have a spare moment.

4. How did your students come up with the title?

Because students had already come up with adjectives to describe themselves, we took that idea and decided to brainstorm adjectives to match our monument ideas. They created a list of at least 25 adjectives total, and we then slowly brought it down to our favorites, as the students shared why they thought certain adjectives matched our book better than others.

5. What do you hope readers learn or take away from Courageous, Eccentric, Diverse?

I hope, first of all, that the voices of my students read loud and clear to everyone, just like they do to me. The removal of the Confederate monuments should have happened long ago, and I hope that the sincerity of the ideas in the book come through to readers, as well as an understanding of the kinds of things the kids in this city value.

Courageous, Eccentric, Diverse is available for purchase here.

All About Protocol

As I quietly sat in the center of my loud predominately black 7th grade classroom trying to pay attention to the English teacher’s lesson of the day, the noise grew louder with laughter and chatter. Because my middle school was both an English and French speaking school, it did a great job representing the two cultures. However, there was a great division between the English and French programs. So, this French-speaking teacher had trouble controlling these rowdy teenagers and constantly lost control of the classroom with teenagers pushing her patience.

After getting tired of the heckling from the class, my teacher turned around from the whiteboard with her piercing, blue eyes narrowing on us and her pale, white skin turning red. She yelled “quiet!” To which all the kids laughed at her frustration. She grew redder and started calling out the names of the loudest and most “delinquent” kids in the classroom. Not one of them seemed phased as they not so silently chuckled and made faces at one another.

At one point, the girl sitting behind me whispered, “watch her hair stick up while she fuss.” And I smirked as it was evident that her short, gray strands of hair stood up as she continued screaming out names. She noticed my small smile I was trying to suppress and immediately addressed it. “Now, Talon, I’m sure your father wouldn’t pleased to hear about you misbehaving in class!” 

You can read Talon's full piece in There Is No School Without Us, coming out this February.

New Orleans Teachers Wanted to Contribute to Youth Publication

Last year, Big Class asked New Orleans youth to respond to the 2016 Presidential election by writing letters to Donald Trump.

This year, Big Class asked New Orleans youth to respond to the parish-wide school board unification by asking questions such as, what is the purpose of school?

After visiting over a dozen New Orleans schools and receiving writings from students in grades 1-12, the inaugural class of the Young Writers’ Council—our application-based writing program for teens—combed through the submissions, selected common themes, and chose those pieces that best represented their individual themes.

Whilst pulling themes, the YWC made another discovery: most of these pieces were written about, for, or to teachers. The audience of the book shifted, and the YWC quickly realized that in addition to students, they wanted this book to be for and by teachers as well. After all, isn’t it our teachers who are closest to us? Although it's oftentimes administrators and unseen entities that create rules, isn’t it up to the teacher to enforce?

This is where you come in.

The YWC invites teachers from all over New Orleans to contribute to this year's Good Troublemakers’ publication. Keeping in mind the themes (listed below) chosen by the YWC, please respond to one (or several) of the following questions. Don’t worry about penning the next Great American Novel; we’re asking for short, personal responses.  


Problems Outside Our Textbooks: How mental health and problems at home affect performance in school.

Sticks, Stones, & GPAs: How bullying affects performance school. Addressing the fact that both students and teachers can be bullies.

Raised By the Bell: Identifying a student’s journey throughout school and how they become disinterested and apathetic by high school.

Chosen Family: When does school become like family? When does that line become blurry and how can teachers be both professional and friendly?

It’s All About Protocol: How can we increase understanding between students and teachers? How does trauma affect a students’ ability to handle stress and triggers? What happens when you share your trauma with your teacher and they still write you up.

The Rules We Need To Break: Who comes up with the rules? Why do we have them? When do rules become arbitrary? When does the “crime” not fit the punishment?

Missed Opportunities: What happens to the artistic student in a school with no art class? The aspiring computer geek with no coding classes? How do missed opportunities hurt students in the long run? What crucial role do teachers play in filling this gap?


1. What is the purpose of school?

2. What is a moment you felt anger, sadness or disappointment in school?

3. What is a moment you felt great joy at school?

4. What is a time school didn’t give you something you needed?

5. Choose a theme below to respond directly to.

Please send all questions and submissions to, no later than January 9, 2018. Your name, school and personal information will not be published and will be kept confidential.

#BigClassBestTen: Courageous, Eccentric, Diverse

After the Confederate monuments came down in New Orleans, Homer Plessy Community School third graders authored a book of their ideas for new monuments for our city—monuments for all people.

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Ranging from Ruby Bridges to beignets and crawfish, 

Ms. Amy's third grade class imagined new monuments for New Orleans that best represent our city.

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Homer Plessy monument by Jibril

"Did you know that Homer Plessy broke the law?

But he did it for a good cause. He was sitting on a railroad car only for white people. He was a part of the Plessy vs. Ferguson case. Plessy argued that it should be legal for black people to sit at the front of the railroad car. 

Homer Plessy deserves a monument because he doesn’t have one and he’s brave and strong with words."

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Alligator monument by London

"Alligators eat a lot of little sh. They live in the swamp around New Orleans. Mommy alligators carry the babies in their mouths because they want them to go to sleep on the water. Sometimes they carry them on their heads and back too.

Alligators are really fast and strong. They can live to be 100 years old. We should make a monument to this animal because it is prehistoric and a survivor."

In classic Big Class fashion, we concluded the project with a reading and publishing party where students held their completed book in their hands and celebrated with friends, family, educators, and community members.

Thank you to Homer Plessy Community School, partner teacher Amy Dickerson, Cartoon Network via 826 National, and Teaching Tolerance.

Purchase Courageous, Eccentric Diverse: New Monuments for New Orleans here.

#BigClassBestTen: Write Your Way In

On November 11th, Big Class and the Upward Bound program came together to support college-bound high school juniors and seniors in writing their college admissions essays.

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With one-on-one support from volunteers,

students spent the day workshopping the first drafts of their application essays.

Thank you to the students, volunteers, Upward Bound, and UNO for making the first Write Your Way In a success!

#BigClassBestTen: A Dark and Stormy Night 2017

October 5th was the fourth annual A Dark and Stormy Night—a literary Halloween party and spirited cocktail contest in support of Big Class's free writing programs.


Led by our host DJ Soul Sister,

we danced the monster mash to tunes by DJ RQ Away, sipped beet-infused spirits from cocktail contest-crowd favorite Scott Hicks (representing 21st Amendment at La Louisiane), and celebrated the release of Big Class's latest publication: a collection of spooky stories written by New Orleanian youth entitled Something Ain't Right.


The pop-up New Orleans Haunting Supply Co. and special silent auction 

purveyed goods to the ghostly denizens of the Crescent City throughout the evening. 

Spirited thanks to our generous sponsors and our thoughtful partners who made the evening such a spooky success! 

You can view all the photos from our 2017 graveyard smash here.

#BigClassBestTen: The Young Writers Council

In 2017, Big Class launched an exciting new program: The Young Writers Council (YWC), a citywide collective of 10th, 11th, and 12th graders who identify as writers, artists and/or community changemakers. 

The 2017-2018 Young Writers' Council

The 2017-2018 Young Writers' Council

In the fall semester, members of the YWC served as the editorial board and contribute to The Good Troublemakers publication, a Big Class project focusing on New Orleanian students' thoughts and feelings on school. 

Also in the fall, the YWC participated in writing workshops, site visits, and interviews with local writers, activists and community members.

In the spring, in addition to site visits and workshops, members will collectively publish a book. 

Thank you to Big Class Program Manager Shannelle Millks for all her hard work establishing and mentoring the YWC, and to the 2017-2018 YWC for all their amazing work thus far and to come! 

#BigClassBestTen: Purple Zine

After the world lost Prince, Big Class and DJ Soul Sister collaborated to celebrate the creativity, self-expression, and poetry that inspired so many.

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In 2016, friend of Big Class DJ Soul Sister hosted Revolution: A Prince Celebration to honor Prince and his timeless artistry, generously donating a portion of the proceeds to our free writing programs.

The following year, we teamed up with Soul Sister to elevate youth voice and forge a connection between Writers' Room students and Prince's powerful legacy. 

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The first-ever Purple Zine is born!

Writers' Room students and DJ Soul Sister discussed the prolific artist and listened to his music on vinyl before writing.

Students wrote acrostics, free-verse poems, and collections of questions for Prince.

Purple Pain
Can’t reign on Prince’s game Ain’t it a shame
That they put dirt on his name After his claim to fame They try to disdain his legacy He’s a purple Pegasus pleasantry.



       New Music & Sound

Positivity is something you show.                            Respect is something that you have for people.
Inspirational to many people. New music and sound is what you bring to the people. Courageous is what you are because you are brave Exciting music is what you give us.








Prince gave to the outspoken silenced and rose above society’s ideals Ringing in our ears opportunity and change

In life acceptance was his middle name.
Now he’s risen above the heaven and his legacy lives on through our ideas Changes he made and worked for more

Eternity shall scream the name Prince even when it closes the door



Thank you, DJ Soul Sister!

Prince 4EVER

#BigClassBestTen: History Between These Folds

In the 2016-2017 school year, 100 11th graders in Eric Parrie's US History class at Carver High School collaborated with Big Class and acclaimed writer Kiese Laymon to write a book of their own personal histories.

History Between These Folds is a collection on family, neighborhood, identity, and New Orleans–reconfiguring how we think about ourselves in relationship to broader sweeps of history. 

"If every American book published in 2017 were written by eleventh graders in New Orleans, the world would be more loving."
–Kiese Laymon

On May 23rd, 2017, we marked the release of History Between These Folds with a publication party at Cafe Istanbul.

Families, friends, and community members came together in support of New Orleanian youth and their writing. 

On December 12th, 2017, we came back together with four of the book's authors and Kiese Laymon at G.W. Carver High School for a special reading and conversation. 

Four authors—Ashley, Octavia, Paris, and Tiarra—read their pieces from History Between These Folds and then sat down to discuss the book, New Orleans, and the future. 

You can learn more about this special project, watch a promotional video, and hear audio of the December 12th reading and conversation here

#BigClassBestTen: Fourth Annual Pizza Poetry Day

In Big Class tradition, we celebrated National Poetry Month, youth voice, and the unifying power of pizza on April 21st, 2017.

Since 2014, the Pizza Poetry Project has celebrated National Poetry Month and the power of youth voice by publishing poems written by young New Orleanians ages 6-18. This year, Pizza Poetry Day was part of the first ever New Orleans Youth Poetry Festival (NOYPF). Big Class teamed with New Orleans Youth Open Mic (NOYOM) to host the inaugural event. NOYPF included readings and workshops for young poets. 

Many of 2017's pizza poems were written through Big Class’s Poets In Schools free workshops, where poets worked directly with students in classrooms. Some teachers led their own poetry lessons, and submitted poems online. In total, Big Class received over 550 entries from students across the city. A teen council selected 20 standout poems to become the 2017 Pizza Poet Laureates. 

On Pizza Poetry Day, Big Class partnered with some of the best pizza joints in town to publish these amazing poems onto pizza boxes for delivery and pickup. Pizza eaters and poetry readers posted their poems on social media using #pizzapoetry17.

Huge thanks to our 2017 Pizza Partners: G's Pizza, Garage Pizza, Mid City Pizza, Pizza Delicious, Reginelli's, and Theo's.