According to Podium Foundation co-founder David L. Robbins, very few of Richmond’s public high schools have literary journals, and none have school newspapers. Contrast this with the neighboring counties, where most every high school features both.
“Richmond’s just like urban school systems nationwide,” Robbins says. “Public schools are retreating from arts and writing programs across the board. Add that to a challenging economy, and you get a picture of the breach Podium stepped into.” The Podium Foundation was established three years ago to address these inequities by providing artistic forums for Richmond city students. Robbins underscores that, “Podium showcases the good news in city schools by giving our youth several platforms for creative expression. At the same time, we work hard with administrators, teachers and students alike to come up with systemic solutions to support the teaching and learning of writing in city schools.”
The crown jewel of the nonprofit’s many successes is the citywide literary journal, Podium. The journal is written, illustrated, edited, selected, and designed collaboratively by talented students from all eight Richmond high schools.
Montrell White, a senior at George Wythe and member of the Podium Editorial Board since its inception, points out that, “Podium gives students a chance to show our creative side. Athletes at my school get constant recognition, but Podium allows students who write and draw to get recognition for their artistic accomplishments.” The students’ newest writing opportunity is a 700-word opinion column, published bi-monthly in the Richmond Times-Dispatch through a partnership between Podium and the Times-Dispatch.
Because the Podium journal features a range of written genres and artwork, several city schools use it as a supplemental textbook in English and art classes. Podium Clubs are in every city high school, all under Podium staff and volunteer mentorship. The call for journal entries has been so successful that Podium, in close partnership with the VCU Humanities Department, will launch Podium Online in September, their web-based literary journal. Robbins says, “Right now, our literary journal lets us put on display no more than sixty pieces a year. With Podium Online, we’ll electronically publish several hundred talented student works all year long.”
Co-founder Lindy Bumgarner adds, “It’s gratifying to see so many students involved with Podium continue on to college. Many are the first in their families to do so.” Montrell White, headed to ODU in the fall, is one such example. “We’re proud of all our Podium kids and teachers,” Bumgarner says. “That’s the easy part of what we do.”