Project 99

Project 99

Emmalyn Meyer, Executive Editor

     In room 117, an incredible idea brews for semesters, and once it is ready, it’s poured over a cup of great execution and success and topped with the agreement between teachers, magazine editors, and staff that it will change the way students look at writing. 

     Jason Beer, English teacher, is changing the image of composition classes for Homestead students through his engaging, enjoyable and exploratory Travel Writing course. But the class itself is not what’s new to Homestead – it’s his plan to compile 99 essays on the 99 blocks of downtown Fort Wayne. This project, dubbed by many as “Project 99,” “The Block Project,” “The 99 Blocks,” among other epithets, broke ground the past semester and was met with success. 

     “We had about 75-ish students last year, and I had about 15-20 (essays) that were really solid articles,” Beer said with optimism. 

     In essence, the students in Beer’s class are randomly assigned one of the 99 blocks of the metro area. After briefly consulting one of the only in-class resources available, a book called Fort Wayne Through Time by Daniel A. Baker and Randolph L. Harter, the students must find their block, explore the space, learn more from any sources available, and analyze a specific aspect of the location. 

     “My favorite part of the class was Mr. Beer making us go out and explore more of Fort Wayne and not just research it,” Breanna Wise (12) said. “He was really trying to teach us and help us out by making us go out there and experience it for ourselves.”

     Beer has the liberty to send his students to the field for research due to his limited range of study in the Travel Writing class. 

     “For one of the essays, we’re able to write about any of our travel experiences that we choose – anywhere from local to out of the country,” Benjamin Miller (12) said. “But for the most part, the projects take place here in Fort Wayne.”

     However, this rule of proximity has done wonders to enlighten the students on the expanses of their hometown. 

     “I looked at our city as super boring before,” Maya Mace (11) said. “Downtown (Fort Wayne) is actually super cool, and I really would never have gone there if I didn’t take that class, but Mr. Beer encouraged us to go and do things we’d never done before – see new things, experience different cultures and scenery – and I thought that was really cool.”

     Moreover, the class provides students with a writing education that they either would not have gotten elsewhere or would not have enjoyed elsewhere. 

     “I wanted to take the travel writing class mostly because literary analysis doesn’t hit well with me – it’s not my strong suit, and (travel writing) sounded like a more enjoyable writing experience, because I’m able to write about things that I enjoy doing,” Miller said. 

     The block project, in particular, was one of the most enjoyable parts of the semester for both the students and Beer, who had the joy of presenting it for the first time. Through this, he was able to delve into feature writing – as a writer for the Fort Wayne Magazine, he has a general knowledge of the subject, but a lack thereof in teaching it, so it is a challenge to know what boundaries of writing he should cross. 

     “The hardest thing is the research – I’m trying to figure out a better way of doing that,” Beer said. “They should be writing more present stories than they do, but that requires more talking to people, and they didn’t sign up for a journalism class, so I can’t just make them do that.”

     Still, this style is attractive to students wanting to stray from the literary analysis of typical English classes. Although Homestead offers other composition courses like creative writing and film, students seem to enjoy having first-hand experience with the content they are writing. 

     “I like just being put into a new experience and having to create something from it,” Mace said. 

     One of the more prominent takeaways that students had with the block project was a renewed sense of cultural and historical appreciation for the city they had grown up in. 

     “I definitely learned a lot more about being aware of what used to be in towns and looking more for the history, because not everything that used to be here is still here, and basically anywhere you see a parking lot, the odds are that there used to be something in its place that has some kind of history,” Miller said. 

     Another thing many gained from the project in particular was confidence and flexibility, especially when it comes to trying new things.

     “It made me go out of my comfort zone to talk to other people and kind of make different connections I wouldn’t have made on my own,” Wise said. 

     Beer’s plan for the compilation is to eventually have the ability to publish the students’ findings in a book. However, this not only requires extensive funding, but it also involves a lot of time, because Beer demands close to perfection. With every batch of articles he receives from the students, he determines which are good to go, which could use a re-write, and which demand another student’s eye. He then assigns them accordingly. 

     “My thinking is that I will get 20-25 good articles each semester that I can use, so it will take two years to get 99,” Beer said. 

     In the meantime, though, the classes will be educated as normal – learning and trying new things and beginning to enjoy their town. 

     “I think Travel Writing is important because it really opens your eyes to new things; for example, I thought Fort Wayne was boring, but it opened up my eyes to trying out new experiences,” Mace said. “Just looking at history and food, there’s so much to do downtown – there’s so many local events and activities and restaurants to try.”