Reflections On Our Young Writers’ Camps

Remember the simple joys of being a kid in summer? Catching fireflies past your bedtime. Splashing in puddles after a summer rain. Swimming until your toes shriveled up like prunes. And discovering the power and magic of your own words at creative writing camp.

Although creative writing may not be the first activity that comes to mind for summer fun, more than sixty kids in our region found out that writing can indeed be a personally rewarding and enjoyable activity at one of the three young writers’ camps sponsored by Appalachian Writing Project this summer.  We were especially blessed this year by a generous grant from the Slemp Foundation that enabled us to expand our programming and reach even more students than in years past.

 Our goal was to provide an experience for students to have fun with writing in creative ways that can sometimes be limited in a regular classroom setting, while at the same time developing crucial writing skills. Although I was initially challenged in staffing a couple of the camps with teacher consultants (particularly not knowing what the final enrollment would be), each camp ended up with a wonderful team of AWP teacher consultants who developed excellent, engaging activities for their students.  Their enthusiasm for writing was so contagious, it was quickly adopted by the children, and based on evaluations from students, parents, and teacher consultants, the camps were a rewarding experience for all involved.

The students were not the only ones who benefited from our young writers’ camps. All of the teacher consultants expressed that the opportunity to teach the camp had been personally and professional rewarding. Several teachers worked with age groups they do not normally interact with in their regular teaching jobs, and they picked up new teaching ideas working alongside other excellent teachers.

 As camp director, I had the pleasure of visiting all three camps, and it was interesting to note how each camp took on a different personality based on the leadership and the needs of the students participating.  “Wild About Writing” was offered to children in grades 1-4 at Dryden Elementary School in Lee County June 9-13 and led by Hope Hart, Lynette Johnson, and Amanda Roberts. Originally, Hope had planned to “split” the week with Amanda, but she had so much fun teaching the camp that she volunteered to come back the other days. The school principal commented how thrilled she was to see the camp reaching several students who could especially benefit from extra instruction.  On the final day, I  was excited to see parents working with their children to finish their haiku booklets before the final presentation. The teacher consultants expressed that they had watched many of the children “blossom” with a new confidence about their writing over the course of only one short week.

The next week, June 16-20, “Write Into Summer” camp was held in Wise County at Wise Primary School. This camp was broken into two age groups, with grades K-4 led by Michelle Edwards, Melody Mullins, and Hope Hart, while Steve Gardner led the grades 5-8 group. For the most part, these writers seemed eager to write and enthusiastically embraced all the creative writing activities their teachers had planned.  Many of the writing activities for the younger group combined artistic illustration, while Steve led the older group in experimenting with digital forms of writing.

Meanwhile, over in Bluefield the same week, the “Write for Your Life” camp was held at Bluefield College. Tammy Williams worked intensely with the younger age group in creative writing, while Rob Merritt led the high school students in an exploration of both personal writing and academic writing.  It was evident during my visit the last day how the students had come to view themselves as “real writers” and bonded as a writing community.  In fact, my first impression when I arrived was of two small girls in the foyer area very earnestly offering each other feedback as they “workshopped” each other’s stories. Later, as I observed the older students’ discussion, I was equally impressed at the respect they exhibited for each other’s ideas.

The culminating activity at each camp was a presentation for parents. This opportunity to share their written work seemed to validate its importance for the students, and a sense of pride and accomplishment illuminated their faces as they read.  The quality of the writing was impressive, from the simplest words chosen by a first grader to compose an acrostic “name poem” to a complex plotline developed by a high schooler. I hope the lesson learned was that everybody can be a writer and that everybody’s ideas are valuable and worthwhile.  And of course, that writing is fun.


Young Writers’ Camps

Appalachian Writing Project hosted three writing camps for young writers this summer: “Wild About Summer,” held at Dryden Elementary School in Lee County for Grades 1-4; “Write Into Summer,” held at Wise Primary School in Wise County for Grades K-8; and “Write for Your Life,” held at Bluefield College in Bluefield for Grades 3-12. Stay tuned to this blog to see photos, student work, and feedback on the experience shared by our students, teachers, and parents.

Congratulations to Pamela Gilmer!

Pamela writes the following, 

On Retirement–

My goals for a lofty retirement (and the introduction to my official 65th year on the planet) were two-fold: first, to keep my brain and my body active by following my passions, and second, to make new friends in Asheville—where we have established part-time residence. 

My first step was to donate the majority of my collection of vintage clothes and costumes to Asheville Community Theatre (ACT). While there, I found out about a scene study class being offered. The teacher went to Yale School of Drama where he became friends with a very talented woman who was there studying opera. She was also into painting, drawing and acting. Her name was Meryl…Meryl Streep. That was a good enough reference for me! Ten weeks later, I learned about the upcoming shows and was thrilled to see one of them was “Driving Miss Daisy.” I was disheartened to realize the competition would be steep in an artsy place like Asheville.

 At my first audition there were 15 Daisy hopefuls, but I made it to the “call backs,” competing against the final 6 determined Daisies. Three days of waiting followed. I returned to the theatre to return my borrowed script and get my $10 deposit back. I was met with a certain amount of disdain and chagrin that I had kept the script out for two weeks (instead of two days). That done, I trotted out to get to my yoga class and try to keep my mind off impending results.

A couple of hours later, I got the word that the role was mine. I was told to come by the theatre and pick up a script. What a hoot it was to return to the box office and be greeted by the same man who shortly before had spanked my hand for my delinquency in returning the script. This time the co-director stood beside me and heartfully introduced me as Daisy. I just smiled and said, ” I’d like to have that script back again, please!” 

Rehearsals begin in another week, and I’ll be staying in Asheville with weekend trips back home to Scott County. The show is Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees August 1-17. I feel confident it will be well-worth the trip to Asheville to see. I’ll even promise a personal money-back guarantee! Those of you who are able to come, please DO let me know when you are coming. Having friends there is my greatest motivating force. Heck,  follow me back to my Asheville abode after the show and celebrate with me. Things are working out just as I had dreamed, planned and hoped that they would for a perfect retirement!