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Creative writing gets high marks in summer
Photo by Itamar Gat
Fifth-grader Josie MacDougall (left) and sixth-grader Samantha Mitchell wrote in their portfolios.
Creative writing gets high marks in summer
By SUE HOFFMAN
"In English, my name means video games. In French, my name means a shiny sports car. In India, my name comes from the first king to ever rule. But to my little cousin, I'm basically a punching bag. I wish he would get over that phase."
So wrote Bharath Katragadda, a sixth-grader who attended the eighth annual Solon Summer Writing Institute at Solon Middle School for students in second through 12th grade. The two-week camp, which continued through this week, culminated in a coffeehouse sharing of participants' work with families and friends, as well as a published anthology with a page of writing from every camper.
"They're getting a lot of freedom for what they want to write," said Orchard Middle School teacher Susannah Miller, who worked with the fifth- and sixth-graders. Of course, basic themes provide the framework, including names, metaphors, family history, neighborhoods and humor.
Mrs. Miller, who's also a storyteller, directed the students in the fifth- and sixth-grade group with Barbara Chernesky, a teacher in Newbury, and Darla Wagner, a longtime Solon educator and assistant principal who is now an administrator with the Orange School District.
Mrs. Chernesky and Mrs. Wagner are members of the Northeast Ohio Writing Project at Kent State University, which co-founded Solon's first Summer Writing Camp in 2001, and Mrs. Wagner directed the camp for the first several years. Claudia Kozel, who has directed the camp for five years, and Joseph Paris, who led the camp's high school student group, are also members of the Northeast Ohio Writing Project.
This summer's writing camp had 76 students, "the highest we ever had," said Mrs. Kozel, a Solon Middle School language arts teacher. The total included 20 high school students, also the highest number for that group, she said. While girls sometimes dominated the group, this year's camp was comprised of about two-thirds boys.
What's attracting them is the opportunity for creative writing without worrying about tests or grades, she said, and those opportunities are fewer in today's classroom. "With standards and high stakes testing, we don't have the time to do that anymore. It's amazing when you give them the opportunity to express their own ideas, the result just blows you away."
"My life is a game of Scrabble," fifth-grader Josie MacDougall wrote for her portfolio. "My brother and sister are tied and in the lead. A new day is a new word that begins with the letters 'G' (grumpy) and 'S' (sleepy)."
Josie, who decorated the cover of her portfolio with teddy bears, said she also enjoys writing poetry and mystery.
"I am from the basement, from where I can always smell the dirty dust," wrote sixth-grader Samantha Mitchell. "I'm never alone. My friends are the dust bunnies, spiders and their oozy, goozy cob webs. Sometimes they let me play a game of 'Name that Web.'"
"Have you ever compared chess to war?" fifth-grader Matthew Carlisle wrote. "Both teams cautiously wait for the other team to strike." He wrote about the sacrifice of the pawns and other team members. "Now it's down to the last two."
Across the hall, high school students, directed by Mr. Paris, a Solon Middle School teacher, and his assistant, Rebecca Chou, let their ideas flow in a variety of creative games. Ms. Chou, of Solon, is a student at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, N.Y., and graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan in creative writing.
On the board was some inspiration from William Wordsworth: "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart."
Sometimes those "breathings" were humorous. One exercise simulated the telephone game on paper. Each student read one line and then wrote one of their own, carefully folding the paper to block the other lines that had previously been written. The results were fun to read, said Mr. Paris "and there were some really neat individual lines."
Other games involved writing on animal themes or using certain words or colors. About half the class opted to write their compositions on laptops, which were provided.
The word, for ninth-grader Brandon Chahda, was "bear." "Today, I must pick potatoes in order to create a trail to lure the blue bear into my domain," he wrote.
Selecting the word "white," ninth-grader Alex Lohiser wrote, "Our sixth sense is our white writing, waiting to be released to cause corruption between touch and hear and smell."
Many other examples of excellent writing were seen from the high school group. Ninth-grader Senan Susan described "the fog so thick you can't see the end of your nose" and "dust in the air so bad you can only breathe in sips."
"I believe in the wind rejuvenating the soul," wrote Chealsea Carter, a junior, "the whispers calming me to a peace. Relax into the fall of serenity."
Other groups also let their talents shine. These included second- and third-graders, led by Parkside Elementary School teacher and camp veteran Mikie Frey; fourth graders, directed by Jaimie Frey, a Solon High School graduate who teaches in the Aurora School District and previously taught at the camp; and seventh- and eighth-graders, led by Solon Middle School teacher Leslie Benko.
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