UMKC Service-Learning project brings children's stories to life

Story City connects undergrad and elementary students
for 10 weeks of creative writing

“Story City,” a new UMKC service-learning project, is giving urban children the opportunity to author their own short fiction. UMKC Service-Learning is working in partnership with the UMKC Institute for Human Development, UMKC English Department, and three community organizations to connect 100 elementary-age students with 25 “Introduction to Fiction” undergraduate students, to learn and grow together.

For 10 weeks, UMKC students are guiding elementary students in 1st-6th grades through hour-long oral writing exercises. Each session begins with a writing prompt, designed to propel the children’s creative thinking. What follows is pure collaborative energy.

The children mesh individual ideas into a collective work of fiction. As the story is created aloud, UMKC student leaders transcribe their words, projecting the children’s creation on an overhead screen. At the end of each session, a new story is complete, ready for publishing in an anthology. Each child will receive their own published copy - to keep forever. The book will contain a blank page for the children to include their own photo and autobiography. Some may even choose to add one more story, written all on their own, inspired by their experience in Story City.

A similar program in San Francisco awakened the idea for Story City in Liz Tascio’s mind. Tascio, a UMKC graduate student and course instructor for undergraduate “Introduction to Literary Fiction” students, discovered “826 Valencia” while living in California in 2000. She loved what she saw.

“Writers, teachers, and people from all walks of life volunteer there and make it a fun, creative community for kids,” said Tascio.

“Recently I started thinking that Kansas City would be a great place to do something similar because of our thriving arts community. I mentioned it to my classmates and teachers at UMKC, and they loved the idea. So when I was asked to teach an ‘Intro to Fiction’ course for UMKC this spring, I decided to do a service learning project inspired by 826. My students liked the idea, too,” she said.

Tascio’s students come from a wide cross-section of majors at UMKC. They are taking the course as a foundational class for all areas of study. Five are English majors. A few are majoring in Elementary education. All are benefiting.   

“My (UMKC) students are studying how plot, setting, character development and other elements of fiction combine to make great stories. Working with the kids in Story City and creating an inspired new story every week is helping my students get to see something else great about writing - the fun of starting from a place of imagination and getting to a finished story,” said Tascio.

The children involved in Story City are benefiting, too.

“The kids are so eager to participate. Their hands go flying up,” said Robin Winfrey, site director at The Upper Room, one of three organizations partnering with UMKC.

“Story City is a new opportunity for them to work in a group. I have parents calling me because their children have come home and told them how they’re writing a book. The excitement level about getting to be authors is what I see most. It’s just a great program,” said Winfrey.

Other community partners and location sites for Story City include Operation Breakthrough and Crispus Attucks Elementary School.

Alexis Petri, Co-Director of Service-Learning at UMKC believes Story City is a shining example of service-learning at work in the Kansas City community.

“At UMKC, service-learning and community engagement is an important part of our mission as an urban university. UMKC Service-Learning is fueled by partnerships with community organizations, faculty, and students who are doing the work that makes Kansas City a great city,” said Petri.

Service-learning is a teaching method which combines community service with academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. From the assignment of a project that addresses community needs, students learn from community members and develop leadership skills while practicing theoretical knowledge gained in class. For more information on service learning at UMKC, visit

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"UMKC Service-Learning is fueled by partnerships with community organizations, faculty, and students who are doing the work that makes Kansas City a great city."

Alexis Petri
Co-Director of Service-Learning at UMKC