Aaron Lopez-Barrantes, Big Class Volunteer of the Month

Aaron Lopez-Barrantes has been volunteering with Big Class since February 2013, when he joined us for our first Giant Steps Jazz Workshop. Aaron is a regular on Tuesdays at Open Studio, where he helps students with their homework and writing projects. He’s also an incredible illustrator for many of our books.

Since Aaron is one of our longest-tenured volunteers and has been a huge part of the Big Class community, he was a natural fit for our first Volunteer of the Month award. Aaron received a $25 gift certificate from our friends down the street at Shake Sugary.

We asked Aaron a few questions about working with Big Class, and what keeps bringing him back.

-What first brought you to Big Class? 

I initially heard about Big Class through a friend who was working on one of the Big Class short story projects. I’m a big fan of art, illustration and drawing, and I loved the idea of being able to illustrate short stories written by kids. Once involved in that, I began coming to the Open Studio after school program and working with the kids. Had a blast, loved the kids, haven’t stopped coming back since.  

-What keeps you coming back?

Obviously the kids keep me coming back. It’s great to be able to interact with the kids in an out of school context. It’s a more laid back atmosphere, a lot more one on one help, and you really get to form close relationships with the kids you see every week. I realized how important it was for a lot of these great kids to not only have after school help with homework, Big Class art projects, and writing, but to have an adult that they can look up to and ask for help, and advice with in school and out of school issues.  

-What are some skills you have that help you out at Big Class?

I’ve learned how to work with kids one on one. Trying to be a better listener, and trying to find ways for a student to better understand whatever task he/she is working on. Even if it’s not a conventional way of teaching, I want to try to help them figure out ways to complete homework or a project when they feel they’ve run out of all ideas. Also, being a fan of drawing, it’s easy to captivate kids by drawing stuff they like and identify with, I always get a lot of love by attempting to draw Spongebob, and their sports heroes. I like being able to show kids that being creative and artistic is actually something they can do in the future whether it be high school, college, or getting a job in art. 

-What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Big Class?

Learning how to be patient. Kids are kids, they’re going to be crazy sometimes, especially after school. They have a lot of energy that they need to release, and some days the craziness is hard to manage. I’m not a teacher, but I’m trying learn how to balance my power as an adult and as a friend to create a place where I’m respected but also can be approached as a mentor. Some days you have to let it all go because these kids have harder days than I do, so you have to pick your battles. 

-What are some great pieces of writing you’ve helped with? Tell us the story behind them if you can.

I love the Big Class books. It’s amazing seeing what these kids come up with in their stories. I loved being apart of the Zombie Tales book project. It was amazing to read the zombie stories and also help with the illustration side of it. Being a big basketball fan, I personally loved being able to draw zombie Lebron James, who was in a lot of the stories. 

-What are you up to when you’re not volunteering with us?

When I’m not at Big Class, I’m with my guitar. I’m a full time musician, singer songwriter in the french quarter. I play five nights a week (Tuesday-Saturday) at the Maison Dupuy Hotel, where I play an acoustic set of my songs and other music that I love. I’m very big into blues, folk, and americana music. I’m really lucky to do what I love. Every now and then I take time off to travel and do little tours all over the country. On August 20th at 8pm  I’ll be at the Republic doing the opening set for the RAW artists organization of New Orleans. It’s a really cool event showcasing New Orleans artists, and I’m honored to be apart of it.

For three weeks, Big Class held a writing workshop at the SoFAB Culinary Library. Elementary school students from schools around New Orleans wrote fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for the Encyclopedia of Eats. In this video, see a few of the students reading their work during our end of workshop party at the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Center.

Created in Big Class Writer-in-Residence Carrie Chappell’s after school class at Akili Academy, Automatown is a made-up place for which students invented stories and fashioned machines.  Automatown is one of many new publishing projects from this school year now available on our web site at bigclass.org/our-publications. Proceeds from publication sales benefit Big Class’s free creative writing programs for New Orleans’ youth.

Like kids? Pizza? Books? Big Class is looking for interns! Come exercise your writing skills, work directly with teachers, students, families, and our amazing volunteer community, and gain valuable experience in many aspects of educational programming, event planning and nonprofit organization. Learn more at the above link.



The news just broke… Walter Dean Myers has passed. In his lifetime, he wrote over 100 books, served as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, won too many awards and honors to list, advised and inspired kids and young writers everywhere, and impacted thousands of lives. He was a lifelong proponent of diversity in children’s literature, and just a few months ago wrote an article that once again sparked the discussion.

Rest well, sir. You will be remembered always.

Beyond this, words fail me.

Not only did we lose a fine writer, but a trailblazler and advocate for more inclusivity and diversity in kidlit. A sad day indeed.

(via prairielights)

Big Class Back to Summer Festival 2014

Big Class is celebrating the end of the school year and the return of summer with the 2nd annual Back to Summer festival. All are invited to enjoy an evening celebrating the over 1000 students and 30 collaborative projects completed this year, including food writing from the Encyclopedia of Eats workshop (a collaboration with the Southern Food and Beverage Museum), photography and made-up place-based writing from Open Studio, and videos created in the Video Poetry workshop (a collaboration with NOVAC). If you’ve participated in Big Class this year as a student or volunteer, or you’re just interested in mind-blowing creative work by the next generation of New Orleans writers and artists, join us on June 18 at Press Street HQ from 5:00-7:00.


Here’s the latest from bigclass!  

The 4th graders at Kipp McDonogh 15 wrote AWESOME action and adventure stories set in the French Quarter.  The book is called “How Do You Know We’re Not Zombies?”  and was published this month thru Big Class and Press Street.

I had the honor to make the cover image! T
he students mentioned Cafe du Monde frequently and I noticed they favored zombies as the spooky subject, so I used the two for my illustration :)

See the rest of my Big Class illustrations here!

(Source: floating-heads.net)


A tribute to Maya Angelou with audio of her reading from Life Doesn’t Frighten Me: Maya Angelou’s Courageous Children’s Verses, Illustrated by Basquiat
Amazing FREE workshops start this Saturday. Tell the young people in your life!

Amazing FREE workshops start this Saturday. Tell the young people in your life!

Spread the word. FREE Big Class food writing workshop at Southern Food and Beverage Museum Culinary Library on OC Haley! http://bigclass.org/encyclopediaofeats

Spread the word. FREE Big Class food writing workshop at Southern Food and Beverage Museum Culinary Library on OC Haley! http://bigclass.org/encyclopediaofeats