Supporting the Dickens Project's LitLabs and Day of Writing Programs

October 27, 2022

By Tara Thomas, Friends of the Dickens Project Board Member 

Double your impact on November 2nd!

Giving Day 2022 Logo

Two generous donors are matching gifts made on Giving Day to support the NAI-USC partnership and the Dickens Day of Writing! Please join the Friends of the Dickens Project in making a difference in the lives of these high school students!


Since its beginnings as a small conference celebrating the writings of Charles Dickens, The Dickens Project has featured educational programming for high school teachers and students alike. From National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Seminars for Schoolteachers to pedagogy sessions embedded within the Dickens Universe itself, we have a longstanding history of engaging secondary school educators and inviting their students to participate in college-level scholarship and coursework. One of the highlights of the Dickens Project’s work is its education programming including LitLabs and The Dickens Day of Writing. This Giving Day, we’re raising funds for both programs.


In 2016, the Dickens Project began collaborating with the Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative at the University of Southern California (NAI-USC) to produce LitLabs, a public humanities program. LitLabs is run by extraordinary AP English teachers at Foshay Learning Center in South LA, including its founder, Dr. Jacqueline Barrios and founding teacher of the NAI-USC program, Kate McFadden. Under Dr. Barrios’s leadership, LitLabs engaged youth in the longform Victorian novel through reading marathons, interdisciplinary performances, and mixed media exhibitions that adapted Charles Dickens’s world to their own.

Foshay students have wowed LA audiences with creative public humanities projects such as a play adaptation of David Copperfield, a film festival featuring films inspired by Frances E.W. Harper’s Iola Leroy, and an audio storytelling project about the 1992 LA riots inspired by Barnaby Rudge. Although Dr. Barrios has since transitioned from secondary to higher ed, LitLabs at Foshay Learning Center continues to thrive.

McFadden, founding teacher of the NAI-USC program, remains committed to helping AP English students engage with literature and the public humanities through LitLabs. “NAI and I grew up together here,” says McFadden, who is celebrating her 33rd year as a Foshay teacher. “It’s very much my home, very much a part of my heart,” she says. McFadden has watched the Foshay Learning Center transform over the years under the support of the USC-NAI program. “Helping first gen students go to college is a passion of mine” and she has now taught multiple generations of NAI alumni. She frequently teaches her former students’ children and currently has a former TA who is pursuing teaching.

Part of the magic of the USC-NAI program is LitLabs, the public humanities project that brings Charles Dickens and other nineteenth-century literature to life through interdisciplinary arts and culture projects. McFadden is continuing the tradition this year by teaching A Tale of Two Cities to her AP English students using the theme of Character. Studying Dickensian character and creating multimedia portraits of individuals from students’ own lives will be a large part of this year’s project, McFadden says. Students will also participate in a reading marathon of A Tale of Two Cities followed by a Dickens Day of Writing focused on the novel as part of the NAI-USC LitLabs programming.

Dickens Day of Writing

On February 7th, 2023—Dickens’s Birthday—The Dickens Project will hold the second annual Dickens Day of Writing at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. High school juniors and seniors will gather to participate in a day-long writing competition focused on Dickens’s essay on houselessness entitled “Night Walks,” receiving writing tutoring from local community educators and volunteers. All participating students receive free commuter registration to the 2023 Dickens Universe, and the top three winners receive cash scholarship prizes. The first-prize winner also receives a scholarship to attend the 2023 Dickens Universe for 5 UC credits.

To learn more about last year’s event, visit our July article, “Local Educators Launch New Writing Program for High Schoolers.” To learn more about this year’s event and to register as a teacher, student, or mentor, visit our Dickens Day of Writing website here.

Join Us for Giving Day 2022

Giving Day is a 24-hour fundraiser at UC Santa Cruz to support student success programs, including the Dickens Project. This Giving Day, we will raise funds for the Dickens Day of Writing and the NAI-USC LitLabs. As a nonprofit organization, we depend on your support to continue providing high school students with programming to support their intellectual growth and love of literature.

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