Congrats to our November Volunteer of the Month, Jenna Knoblach! Read our interview with Jenna:
What first brought you to Big Class?
I first learned about Big Class in 2011 at a gallery off of St. Claude. On the walls, there were stories and illustrations for the first publications. On the ceiling, bound books floated like birds. I knew there was something special happening. A couple years later, I was able to start devoting time to Big Class’s programs. I was teaching full time, but I still needed an outlet where I could help feed somebody’s creativity. It was easy to make time for Big Class.
What keeps you coming back?
Kids are there because they want to learn. Adults are there because they want to teach. There isn't a high stakes test that will pass them to the next grade. I keep coming back to Big Class because it doesn’t operate under ordinary structures. It is truly amazing that students get to have this “third space” that isn’t school or home. At Big Class, students can stand up out of their seat. They can make decisions about a book they want to make with their friends. They can grow their confidence in creative writing and public speaking.
What are some skills you have that help you out at Big Class?
In school, I studied both visual art and creative writing. Big Class is the marriage of my two loves. Something I’m really excited about is leading the Undrawable Stories workshop this year. Students will write a narrative that is so strange, so bizarre that it will be simply impossible to illustrate. At Press Street’s 24-hour Draw-A-Thon, artists will make the stories come to life. This exercise leads young writers to think with images in mind. Communication, for me, has always been visual--whether it is with art or with words.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Big Class?
A challenge I’ve faced with Big Class is working with older students for the first time. A lot of my teaching experience has never reached the sixth grade or higher. By that age, students are more able to discern power structures, and it can be more difficult to gain their trust and help them see writing as something that can transport them from the everyday. Doing simple things like creating a mural or taking a field trip can really be helpful to cultivate that “third space,” so students can know they are safe to try new things.
What are some great projects you’ve helped with? Tell us the story behind them if you can.
A project I had a lot of fun helping with was the Encyclopedia of Eats workshop. I remember helping a student, Frank, who had an idea of wanting to write about a crawfish boil. He wasn’t sure where else to go with it, but I kept asking questions and found out he enjoyed dialogue. His story ended up being this really funny play where the chef and the crawfish were making arguments for why or why not the crawfish should get eaten.
When I taught math I was always trying to get my students to sign up for weekend workshops at Big Class. Finally, April came around. I was able to work with my creative students on the sly and get them published in the Pizza Poetry Anthology. Garage Pizza delivered to our school, we played pin the pepperoni on the pizza, and I got to see my students’ faces finding their poems on pizza boxes.
What are you up to when you’re not volunteering with us?
When I'm not volunteering at Big Class, I'm making art, seeing art, reading about art, and teaching talented art.