Students entering the eighth grade this year at Pierre Capdau-UNO Charter School have some big pages to fill, never mind the shoes.

That’s because last year, an eighth grade language arts class at the Gentilly charter school left behind a lasting record of their experiences through a book titled In That We Wrote So Much & Came So Far. This anthology of poetry, vignettes and photos of the contributing writers offers a glimpse of New Orleans life as seen by students during that pivotal year between elementary and high school. It represents a yearlong road of learning and creative expression for the 45 students involved, and it’s likely to be repeated this year with a new class of students. 

“It would be good for upcoming eighth graders to experience this, because they probably haven’t had a chance to express themselves and make their feelings known,” says Devin Sordelet, 14, a student and book contributor. “It makes you proud to see it in print, it makes it real and tangible.” 

The book was published by the Neighborhood Story Project, a local nonprofit that produces books by New Orleans residents about their neighborhood experiences. Dr. Andre Perry, CEO of the UNO Charter School Network, felt the NSP approach could help add student voices to the local discussion of education reform.

“Too often, educational policies lack insights from their most important constituents: students,” says Perry. “Education leaders should frame the legitimacy of policy partly on the infusion of student experiences, learning and insights.”

NSP co-director Abram Himelstein and Kareem Kennedy, a writer with the project, taught the weekly class together at Capdau, bringing in poems to inspire students to write about their own experiences.

The resulting work, printed in the book, tell stories of familiar pleasures like snow ball stands and family outings, and also show youth perspective on New Orleans issues very much in discussion among adults. For instance, student Kedrick Perkins summed up his views on violence in his three-line poem “Guns,” which reads, “Are Killers/But yet we use them/We’re to blame.” An except from student Ariel Melancon’s untitled poem reads: “Keep your head up Ronisha/Although you don’t have a mom/To talk to from time to time/I’m still here for you no matter what.”

A limited supply of free copies of the book is available at the University of New Orleans, 2000 Lakeshore Dr., Bicentennial Education Building, Room 242.