Friday, April 10, 2015

Southern Arkansas University Writing Festival 2015

First-year teacher pride moment: I took twenty of my students on a field trip today to Southern Arkansas University's 2015 Writing Festival (first field trip milestone!), and FOUR OF MY STUDENTS PLACED!

The entire day was amazing, from registration to awards. My students, a motley mix of 7th graders, 8th graders, and one lone 12th grader, were nervous at first; most of them had never been to such a formal event (even though the Writing Festival has a really laid back, welcoming atmosphere). Many were afraid of being around the professors who had judged their writing submissions, and all of them wanted to make a good impression. Though my opinion is biased, I think my students succeeded in standing out in a positive way.

The Writing Festival offered a nice variety of workshops to attend, including poetry, writing as a professing, dialogue/scene writing, and fiction. Before students separated to go investigate workshops on their own, we all attended a Skype call hosted by Dr. Shannin Schroeder featuring modern fairy tale author Micah Dean Hicks (whose book I reviewed in an earlier post). During the call, Micah read one of his stories and answered questions posed by curious young writers. My students loved his tale, so much so that my senior was actually upset there wasn't more to the story.

Skype Call with author Micah Dean Hicks
(Sorry for potato)

After the call ended, students branched out and attended workshops on their own. Though most of my students are shy (we come from a small school where students don't get many opportunities to flex their creative muscles), I was surprised to find that my students were actively participating in the workshops and were willing to share their work in front of the other festival attendees.

Dr. Elizabeth Davis hosted the poetry workshop where my students pushed the limits of their imaginations by using sensory details to describe a person, place, thing, or event. In the fiction workshop with Dr. James Ulmer, entire worlds were born when students created families united by a tragedy, brothers reunited after one is released from a POW camp years after WWII, and many other exciting stories. Dr. Ulmer encouraged students to write concisely (500 word maximum), but even so my students were bubbling with the desire to keep developing their stories after the workshop ended.

By far, my proudest moment was the awards ceremony. In the Middle School category, my students earned 1st and 3rd places in fiction and 2nd place in creative nonfiction. In the High School category, my student earned 2nd place in poetry.

Each and every time I heard one of my students' names called, I felt this overwhelming sensation of pride and astonishment. I knew their submissions were good but had no idea how strong their peers from other schools were writing. And I can't lie, you guys: when they called my student up to accept 1st place for her multi-narrator, multi-generational slave story (she is in 7th grade), I teared up. Like mouth-agape, Ms. USA-winner, fanning-my-face teared up.

My students gained so much from the SAU Writing Festival. They arrived on campus nervous first-timers, unsure of their abilities, scared of being judged. By the time we all boarded the bus to go back to our school, however, they had gained confidence in their creations, pride in each other, and, most importantly, an inflamed interest in writing.

We had a wonderful time at Southern Arkansas University. I would like to thank the faculty of SAU and the community members who work so hard to make the Writing Festival a success every year. A special thanks goes to David Wingfield, the man who, in my six years of experience with SAU, makes everything a success.

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