When Phil Cioppa told students in his American Literature classes at Hanford High School what he wanted to make one of their assignments into a published book, they didn’t believe him.
“When he said we should make it a book, everyone just laughed,” recalls junior Zak Demiter.
“I didn’t think he was serious,” added junior Anthony Garza.
But their teacher was serious. Now that assignment—each student’s reflection upon the challenges and difficulties they experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic and the advice they have for other teenagers on coping and moving forward—is available in hardcover and paperback. A book launch party for “Sincerely, Room 111: Voices of a New Era” on April 14 at the school gave all the students a chance to be recognized and celebrated for something that they didn’t think would actually happen.
“It was just another assignment, I didn’t think it was anything special,” says junior Maddy Bare.
For Mr. Cioppa, what the students wrote demonstrated the wisdom and honesty that so many youth have to offer and yet don’t have many opportunities to share.
“Teenagers don’t often get to write for other teenagers like this,” he says. “I wanted my students to see how they don’t have to wait to help and make a difference.”
The students had only been in Mr. Cioppa’s class for a few weeks when he gave them the assignment as a simple way to practice their writing skills. When he began reading them after they were turned in, he was moved by their poignancy.
“They have been enduring a pandemic. On top of that, many have dealt with struggles at home, some struggles in their personal relationships,” Mr. Cioppa said. “We’re trying to teach kids how to manage their emotions yet they have a lot to teach, too.”
After telling his students his plan to make a book and securing permission from them and their families, Mr. Cioppa began working with a parent to edit and prepare the student essays and find a publisher. Colorado-based Outskirts Press agreed to publish and distribute the book, the Richland Education Foundation paid some of the upfront cost and Assistant Principal Tiffany Spencer wrote the book’s foreword. Proceeds from book sales will go toward establishing a scholarship fund through the foundation or other community partner.
The students, for their part, are taking their new role as authors in stride. But they stress that what they wrote is true to their experience and truly meant to help youth facing the same struggles.
“So many people don’t think kids know anything,” says junior Briella DeWeber. “If they open it and read it, there will be something there for them.”
That even goes for themselves.
“Oh my gosh, he is such a good writer,” exclaimed Maddy to several students upon reading Anthony’s essay. “Seriously, you need to read it, it’s so good.”