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Write-On Workshops Gives Opportunities for All Students

Nov 12, 2015 01:07PM ● Published by Julie Slama

By Julie Slama 

Nine years ago, when Murray parents Emily Bauman and Carrie Finlinson decided to create a writing camp for their oldest daughters who were then in grade school, they probably didn’t expect it to also help them and others who are in, or are finishing, high school.

            But that’s what it did.

This summer, about 140 second through seventh graders throughout the Salt Lake Valley attended the Write On! Workshops summer camp created by Bauman, a teacher at McGillis School, and Finlinson, a University of Utah and Utah State University educator. Alongside the two teachers were 18 coaches, mostly high school students who love to write, including their own children.

The week-long camp, held June 8-12 at Westminster College, had sessions for three hours in the morning for younger students and three hours in the afternoon for older students. During the week, students had a chance to interact with local guest authors, and by the end of the camp, each class of students created a camp magazine with their own work.

Each day, an opening session had students learn different approaches to writing and editing. Students examined different pieces of writing and also wrote their own pieces, which could be essays, short stories or poems, fictional or non-fictional. After 90 minutes, campers divided into areas they wanted to learn about, such as how to write a series, fiction writing, script writing, writing fairytales, nature writing, mystery writing, creating character sketches or learning to use active verbs.

            It was during these areas that the coaches stepped in to help the younger writers.

“We might help them learn how best to include dialog in their story or look for other words to say instead of ‘said’,” Murray High senior Brett Jenkins said. “I like seeing how the kids are so creative, coming up with ideas and putting them into stories.”

            Brett has been a coach for three years and likes to write in his spare time.

            “This is my favorite week of the summer and I want to make it their favorite week, too. I love working with kids and they already have the fundamental skills, so this is where they can have fun and enjoy writing. They make leaps and bounds of progress during this week and often, we see the same campers coming back year after year because they love it.”

            Before the camp began, the coaches, who received a small stipend for their transportation and lunches, had an orientation where they learned how to encourage writers and recognize their skills. 

“We’re not to fix anything, but we encourage and show them ways to learn,” he said.

Brett, who is friends with Finlinson’s daughter, Lauren, learned about the camp through her. He also has helped with his school literary magazine.

            Emma Coombs also attends Murray High with Lauren and Brett, and arranged her summer job hours around the camp so she could return again as a coach.

“I may want to go into child education and I love writing, so this combination is a great opportunity for me,” Emma said. “I love it and it’s super fun. I like seeing the kids’ ideas and how they get their inspiration.”

On the first day of camp, Emma’s coaching abilities were tested when one student said that she hated writing and came to the camp because her parents made her.

“Usually that isn’t the case at all, so I talked with her about her writing, with the main goal to get her to like writing and have fun with it. She had some great ideas written, but couldn’t get past the point of thinking it had to be a certain way. By the end of the week, she was having fun and wrote a great story,” she said.

            Emma, who plans to attend Southern Utah University this fall, also encourages students to keep a notebook or journal and create time to write or even jot down ideas or words that they could use later in their writing.

            “We have story prompts or questions for students to begin their day with, and I’ll write those down and try them on my own. Helping these students has given my own writing more strengths and improved my grammar in my writing,” she said.

Finlinson said the dedication and enthusiasm the coaches bring is much appreciated.

            “I am always impressed when they want to come back after high school graduation because you know they aren’t there looking for something for their college applications — by now, they have their college plans,” she said. “They are there because they genuinely enjoy working with students and encouraging them to become more confident writers.”

            Her daughter, Elise, was a camp coach for the first time.

“I’ve been here every year as a camper and now, as a coach, this means a lot,” she said. “I’ve always loved writing, so now I get to share my love of writing with others. At first I was scared I wasn’t going to be good at it, but then I put in use what I learned and the students were excited. It’s been so much fun.”

While coaching students with fiction writing, Elise asked students to think where their story may be taking them.

“I ask them, ‘Where are you going from here?’ ‘What if this happens, what is going to help your character?’ I ask them about characters’ relationships with others, or putting different voices in the story and then, at the same time I’m asking them, I realize some of that is what I need to do in my own writing. It’s been great knowing that by helping others with what I learned, I’m actually learning it again myself,” she said.

            Elise also said it’s also a time she looks forward to in bonding with her writing friends.

“Some of these people I don’t go to school with, but I see them here at Write-On! year after year. We’ve developed a sense of community and support through writing. It’s really cool when you hear kids saying, ‘Let’s go write together,’” she said.

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