As music from Rocky blasted, students danced on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art last week, preparing to try to break the world record for the “greatest number of young writers writing essays in the same place at the same time.” Organizers estimate that more than 3,000 students between ages 7 and 17 took part.
The event was held during the Democratic National Convention by the City of Philadelphia and Mighty Writers, an organization that works with students to improve their writing, on the theory that good writing leads to greater success in school and in life.
Mighty Writers sent out an email Monday expressing their extreme disappointment that the certifying organization has declined to call it a world record for reasons not quite clear.
"I know. Seriously. If you were there, you've got to be as flabbergasted as we are," the email said.
In response, Mighty Writers has chosen to quote First Lady Michelle Obama, who said in her convention speech the night before the big write-in: "When they go low, we go high."
And given the publicity the event received, one could argue that it went a long way toward achieving its purpose.
“We were looking for something to showcase the literacy crisis in the city,” said Tim Whitaker, executive director of Mighty Writers.
“We also wanted to showcase Philly kids. We think they’re the greatest kids around, and they’re proving that today by coming out in these kinds of numbers,” he said.
Whitaker said that the high dropout rate among Philadelphia’s students was another reason to get involved in making sure students write a lot from the earliest ages.
Throughout the morning, several speakers addressed the crowd and helped to prepare students for the challenge. Then students picked up their pencils to respond to the prompt, “If I were president.”
In the 15 minutes that were allotted for writing, students covered a range of issues that they would focus on if they led the country.
Each student who participated also received a bag filled with supplies that they can use to keep up their writing skills.
“This is to educate, it’s to empower, and it’s to engage and really have the students express [themselves]” and improve their literacy, said City Representative Sheila Hess, who gave Mighty Writers an award for the work it has done.
“And what we’re doing actually embodies what Mayor Kenney’s message and goals are for our city to educate and empower the youth.”
Rasheed Cummings, soon to be a 4th grader at the private Christian City School, said that education would be toward the top of his list of what to address as president.
“I would help every person in the community get a free education,” he said.
Rasheed also said that stopping violence would be one of his priorities.
Jahsir Lively, a 6th grader at Universal Bluford and an aspiring writer, said he was looking forward to writing about health. In particular, he said, he wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking.
Teacher Alberto Romero, who has been working with students during the summer at Universal Bluford, said the event was a great way to highlight some of the skills students are learning. He said he had incorporated a lot of writing into the summer program.
“I’m a big fan of writing,” Romero said.
“So when this came up, I was all over it.”