As printed in press release shared by Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library.

July 14, 2017 

Six students from Harshman
Magnet Middle School were recognized for their writing at their school’s
end-of-year ceremony and at an Indy Eleven professional soccer match on
Saturday, June 17, 2017.

Eighth-graders Charles
Boston, Jairo Garcia-Cruz, Yoselin Hernandez, Johnny Israel, Katie Levi and
Said Perez Venegas wrote personal narratives about overcoming adversity. Their
work best demonstrated the use of writing as a tool to heal.

The students, along with
260 other classmates at Harshman, participated in a unique
“Slaughterhouse-Five” narrative pilot program sponsored by the Kurt Vonnegut
Museum and Library (KVML), Indy Eleven, Eskenazi Health, and Penguin Random
House. The partnership was a response to the stark reality that Indiana leads
the country in teens who contemplate suicide. Poverty, lack of mental health
services and sporadic or no support in some schools and homes exacerbate the
problem. Teens can feel isolated and don’t know where to go for resources or
help.

Rebecca Townsend, a KVML member,
Indy Eleven supporter and a local girls’ soccer coach came up with the original
idea for the pilot program. 

“As a soccer coach, I work
with teens most every day,” said Townsend. “The pressure comes from all sides:
parents, academics, sexuality, sports. In addition, some students struggle
with poverty, substance or physical abuse, or bullying from peers.”

The partners met with a
Harshman team of administrators and faculty to design a plan centered on
Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel “Slaughterhouse-Five.” The
fictional book is based on Vonnegut’s experience as a prisoner of war during
World War II. It took Vonnegut 25 years to write of his war experience, but
when he did, he found the process cathartic. In fact, writing can be very healing
for people who experience war, riots, abuse or other trauma.

As part of the program,
Indy Eleven created a short video and Penguin Random House donated 270 copies
of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” which the students annotated. According to Harshman
English teacher Idalmi Acosta, student reaction to brand new books was one of
the successes of the program.

“I got the funniest and
most heartwarming reactions to this,” Acosta said. “Reactions like, ‘Wait, we
get to keep this book forever and ever?’”

KVML curator Chris Lafave
visited Harshman to introduce students to Vonnegut’s life, which was peppered
with tragedy, including hardships from the Great Depression, mental illness,
the sudden death of family members, war and financial stress. Jill Hunsberger,
a clinical program coordinator with Eskenazi Health, talked to students about
best coping practices. While reading the book, students crafted their own
narratives as a way to work through the challenges in their lives.

“As the mother of an eighth-grader
and having been one myself, I know being an eighth-grader is not easy,” said
KVML CEO and founder Julia Whitehead. “The partners and the Harshman teachers
and staff spent a lot of time in the classroom helping young people turn their
personal struggles into works of literary art. We want these students to
learn that through writing, they can start a path to healing, they can
grow, and they can learn more about themselves and each other. Vonnegut would
like that.”

Some students entered
their work in an essay contest judged by KVML and members of Indy Eleven’s
Slaughterhouse-Nineteen fan support group. Bianca Velez, Indy Eleven community
relations and camp manager, awarded all Harshman participants a free voucher to
attend a game at Carroll Stadium. The six winners won a certificate, an Indy
Eleven shirt, a Slaughterhouse-Nineteen scarf, a Kurt Vonnegut doll and tickets
to and recognition at the June game.

“We hope this
‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ narrative program empowered students at Harshman to
take control of their stories and listen to others with empathy and
compassion,” Whitehead said. “It was a pleasure to work with these bright young
people and their dedicated teachers. And we are grateful to the individuals who
donated to support this program. We wish these students all the best and hope
they will continue to stay engaged with the Vonnegut Library in their high
school years and beyond.”

For more information about
the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, go to www.vonnegutlibrary.org. For Year of Vonnegut events, go to www.vonnegutlibrary.org/events.

The Kurt Vonnegut Museum
and Library champions the legacy of Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut and the
principles of free expression, common decency and peaceful coexistence he
advocated. www.vonnegutlibrary.org.


As printed in press release shared by Kurt Vonnegut Museum and
Library.