Our Founder & Instructors

Sondra Hall is the Founding Director of “Take My Word For It!”. Her inspiration as an artist-educator is fueled by her belief in the power of the written word to transform both teacher and student. She’s seen first hand that when kids’ imaginations are ignited, they’re more engaged and enthusiastic about learning. Because she thinks a lot of students spend too little of their school day crafting stories, swimming in their imaginations and applying their creative spark to the page, she conceived of “Take My Word For It!” as a way to bring the adventure that is writing to elementary school kids.


Virginia Barrett is a poet, writer, visual artist, educator and promoter of social justice. She is the editor of the anthology Feather Floating on the Water–poems for our children, winner of an Acker Award for children’s literature in 2014. She is also the co-founder of We Are All Poets, a youth poetry and civics program in collaboration with the San Francisco Main Public Library. Her most recent books are, I Just Wear My Wings—collected poems of an aspiring mystic (Jambu Press) and Singing My Naked Lines (PoetSong Press). She is also the co-editor (with Bobby Coleman) of OCCUPY SF—poems from the movement, released in 2012. An active member of the San Francisco literary scene, she has performed at various venues in the city including: the San Francisco International Poetry Festival, Modern Times Bookstore, Bird and Beckett’s Bookstore, Koret Auditorium, and The Brava Theater as part of Flor y Canto Festival. She has been a teaching-artist in San Francisco and Marin public schools since 2008.

Tom Comitta is an educator, writer, publisher and multimedia artist living in Oakland. In the past ten years he has taught literary and visual arts to elementary school children on both coasts of the US. As a writer, Tom published his first book through Ugly Duckling Presse in 2012. He holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts and has run a handful of literary journals and presses since he moved to the Bay Area.

Tanya Grove was an elementary school teacher for 24 years and also taught an after-school musical theater class. Besides posting to her blog ForWords, she has written poems, short stories, plays, songs, a middle grade novel, and a chapter book. (Hear an adorable little British girl read Tanya’s poem “Blue” on smories.com.) Former president of the Berkeley branch of CWC (the California Writers Club), Tanya still edits the branch’s newsletter. In addition, she is a member of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and is a playwright with PlayGround SF, who staged her one-act play in front of a full house at the Berkeley Reperatory Theatre. A dedicated word nerd, Tanya laughs out loud at punctuation jokes and other grammatical humor and is currently a copyeditor for BookMatters for whom she’s edited books by a range of authors, including Rose Aguilar, Paul Farmer, and Rebecca Solnit.

Ivy JohnsonIvy Johnson was born on the open prairie where she picked crocuses as a child. Her first book, As They Fall, was published by Timeless, Infinite Light Press in June 2013 and is a collection of 110 note cards for aelatoric performance. She calls it a book of poetry. She received her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Mills College in Spring 2013. While at Mills, she served as the coordinator of The Contemporary Writers Series and poetry editor of the 580 Split literary journal. She has taught for the Oakland Youth Poetry Workshop and gets really excited about working with kids.


Jamie O’Connell has been writing poetry ever since she knew how to use a pen. A graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder with a major in English/Creative Writing and a minor in Philosophy, she is currently pursuing her MFA in Writing at California College of the Arts. Jamie has six years of experience working with children: as an outdoor educator, camp counselor, after-school program supervisor, and writing instructor. The majority of her free time is spent with her zebra-striped dog named Daisy, but she also loves traveling, cooking, blogging, and exploring the outdoors.

Meredith PaigeMeredith Paige is a poet, teacher, and new mother. She received her MFA from San Francisco State University in 2010 along with a Certificate in the Teaching of Composition. Meredith was an Honorary Senior Poet at The George Washington University where she received her B.A. in English; her work has appeared in Poecology, Elephant Journal, and Milvia Street. Meredith has spent the last five years teaching at Berkeley City College and leading a memoir-writing group for local Holocaust survivors. When she’s not chasing around her son, she loves cooking up poems and good food. Meredith lives in the East Bay with her husband, son, and beloved cocker spaniel. She is so grateful for the chance to share the experience of writing with the amazing “Take My Word For It” students!

Emily PhillipsEmily Phillips was bitten by the writing bug at the tender age of 10. Poems, short stories, and novels have been in her blood ever since. She took her first real writing class when she was 24 and wishes there had been a Take My Word For It! around when she was a kid. Emily received her MFA in Creative Writing from California College of the Arts.

Antona RechifAntona Rechif graduated from the University of San Francisco in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. She has taught Arts and Crafts at Purple Crayon, led Summer and Winter Camps with San Francisco Gymnastics, and also spent a semester working for the African American Shakespeare Company. She is just returning to the city after spending two years in Chicago earning her Masters in Creative Writing, and teaching Intro to Science Fiction to college freshman at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago.

Annie RovzarAnnie Rovzar is currently pursuing a MFA in Poetry at the University of San Francisco. After graduating from Santa Clara University with a BA in Religious Studies, she spent a year in El Salvador as a community coordinator for a study abroad program. In the past three years, Annie has worked as a tutor and after school program leader for at-risk youth in San Francisco.


Joseph Shumake is a songwriter and musician who writes, records, and performs music for the band, Sister Chief. He graduated from California Institute of Integral Studies with a Bachelors Degree in Interdisciplinary studies. His focus while obtaining his degree was creativity and consciousness; how creative expression allows for deeper understanding of the Self, local and global community. Joseph is also a self-taught painter, sculptor, and woodworker.

Anna WilsonAnna Wilson, aka “Annah Anti-Palindrome,” is an Oakland-based educator, writer and sound-artist. Anna(h) obtained her MFA degree in Creative Writing/Poetry through Mills College in 2011. Just for the record, she has nothing against palindromes on principle…it’s just kind of a long story. Anna(h) has tutored writing, led creative writing workshops, and facilitated after school programs for a variety of different age ranges (from elementary to high school students). She is currently a submissions editor with Deviant Type Press publishing collective.


Kelsey Buckley is a writer, performer, and friend to all animals. She studies arts management at Emerson College. Kelsey is a past development intern at 826 Boston and enjoys the administrative side of creative writing education as well as tutoring and facilitating workshops. She loves improvisational comedy and believes that collaboration is one of the most important skills you can learn. She has written for an online literary magazine called The Catharsis.

Kate Carito is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is the current editor of the Breakwater Review. In 2012 she received an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from London Metropolitan University. Prior to her studies she worked at O, The Oprah Magazine.


Nellie Prior is a writer, educator, and wanderer of the woods based in Boston, MA. She studies writing at Emerson College, as well as at her very own desk. Having just finished the year as an intern for 826 Boston, where she lead workshops and oversaw after-school tutoring, she is thrilled to continue combining two of her greatest loves: working with children and working with the written word. She delights in creating a safe space for children to dig treasures out of their bottomless imaginations. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a children’s book, and her work has appeared in The Charles River Review.

Megan McDermott is the associate editor of Scene Magazine based in Boston. Megan loves to write short stories and poetry. In her free time, you can find Megan on the ski slopes!



PJ MagellanPJ Magellan is a fiction writer from the Washington, DC area. He did his undergraduate work in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. After graduating, he lived in Buenos Aires for four years working as an English teacher and freelance translator. In addition to teaching and traveling extensively throughout Uruguay and Argentina, he also attended writing workshops in a small used bookstore in the cobblestoned streets of San Telmo, where he began to craft his first novel. He is currently in his first year of the MFA program at George Mason University.

Linda Prather is a masters candidate in creative writing at George Mason University. She has an undergraduate degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University and worked for two decades as a marketing and communications manager. As a Sally Merton Fellow at George Mason, she has taught creative writing in both grade and high schools.

Alexandra Schwartz is a first-year student in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. She completed her undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Virginia. After having witnessed exemplary teaching and having taught classrooms herself, she realized how powerful learning can be for kids with an engaging and motivated instructor at the helm. She has always been an avid reader and found a unique voice of her own after having been inspired by great works of literature over the years. Experience has taught her that children are most marvelously masterful in the art of creative writing and she looks forward to learning from them while partaking in their adventures. She loves oxymorons and adverbs, and is unreasonably excited to be a part of the program.

Jessie Szalay Jessie Szalay has loved writing for as long as she can remember. Her passion for words followed her while she wrote, published, and taught children around the U.S. and in Japan, England, the UAE, and Jerusalem. A resident of Washington, DC, Jessie is an MFA candidate in nonfiction at George Mason University and nonfiction editor for So to Speak: a journal of language of art. In her spare time, she’s writing an action-packed young adult novel. Jessie is thrilled to be working with the young people of Northern Virginia as they discover the power and fun of writing with “Take My Word For It!”

Q WangQinglan “Q” Wang is an MFA candidate in poetry at George Mason University. Originally from Honolulu, she traded her surfboard for a BA from Bates College in Maine. She spent the last couple of years teaching elementary school children the meaning of ‘Ohana in southern Rhode Island. In addition to poetry, she loves making silly faces to go along with great rhymes.



Susan DeFreitas is a writer, editor, and educator. A regular presenter at writing conferences and in programs for both kids and adults, her work has appeared in The Utne Reader, The Nervous Breakdown, Southwestern American Literature, Fourth River, Weber—The Contemporary West, and Bayou Magazine, among other publications. She is the author of the fiction chapbook Pyrophitic (ELJ Publications, 2014), and holds an MFA from Pacific University. Susan lives in Portland, Oregon, where she serves as an associate editor with Indigo Editing & Publications and a reader for Tin House Magazine.

Robert Merritt graduated in 2013 from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media. His undergraduate work concentrated on poetry, contemporary ethnographic writing, and 16 mm film production and plans to pursue an MFA in poetry and creative writing. He studied under Pulitzer Prize nominated poet Forrest Gander and had his work published in several publications. Robert is an experienced one-on-one tutor and mentor having volunteered in several Boys and Girls Club after school programs in Fairfield, Connecticut. He has also designed curricula and taught Social Studies, Music and Theater for grades K-6 at the William D’Abate Summer School in Providence, Rhode Island. He is very excited to be teaching and learning with Take My Word For It!

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