Dec. 17, 2009
By Tim Simard
Over the past four weeks, several Williston Central School students have been able to raise their creative writing talents to a new level. Thanks to funds from a local grant, about 15 upper house students took part in a supplemental class geared toward gifted writers.
Observer photo by Tim Simard
Miciah Bay Gault (left) instructs seventh grader Meghan O’Day on how to write a sestina poem during Monday’s writing class at Williston Central School. About 15 gifted writers at the school took part in the four-week supplemental class.
Observer photo by Tim Simard
Sixth grader Abigail Keim (left) listens as seventh grader Amelia Dodds reads her poem aloud during Monday’s writing course.
Not only were the classes informative, but most of all, they were fun. On the Monday morning of Dec. 14, students diligently created new names for themselves using a set list of words.
The title of the exercise was “My name is …” By arranging the words in different orders, tenses and uses in an eight-line poem, students discovered just how creative and elaborate they could be with their invented names.
Names and phrases such as “Crepuscular Photograph Mask,” “Intestinal Oyster Taxi Wagon” and “Pelican Freckles” echoed throughout the room. Students and their peers read the poems aloud, offering words of encouragement and praise.
“It’s like you’re taking yourself and trying to fit in with the words,” said seventh grader Shea Ingham. “It’s like a puzzle.”
Students taking the class said it gave them a chance to meet with other writing students at Williston Central and hear the work of peers. Sixth grader Amelia Dodds said the class inspired her to continue writing.
“This is the best creative writing class and lots of fun,” Dodds said.
Teachers across the upper houses nominated up to five students each for the extracurricular class, which took part during school hours. Seventh grader Jake Quatt said his teacher, Nick Brooks, encouraged his writing and wanted him to take the course.
“I like to write stories, usually historical fiction,” Quatt said. “I like to take things that actually happened and make them change a little.”
The class became available through a $750 grant discovered by Williston Central School receptionist Carmen Portelli. Always on the lookout for different grants, Portelli found one geared toward standout writers.
“It’s for children who have a specific gift but don’t have the opportunity to use it,” Portelli said.
The money was made possible through ExxonMobil’s locally owned Jolley Convenience Stores.
Miciah Bay Gault, the course’s writing instructor, focused primarily on poetry, introducing students to forms not commonly taught in English classes. After reading selections, students were asked to write their own.
During Monday’s class, students tried a complex structure known as a sestina. The poetic form uses six recurring words in different orders throughout the stanzas. Even in a limited amount of time, students began creating their own sestinas, which impressed Gault.
Gault is the editor of “Hunger Mountain,” a literary journal published in magazine and online formats. The journal is part of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, based in Montpelier. The school offers master’s degrees in fine arts in the areas of poetry, fiction and nonfiction writing, as well as specialty courses in children’s writing.
While Gault generally works with adults, she said she’s continually amazed at how advanced middle school students’ writing can be.
“It all starts here,” she said. “Their minds are really playful at this age and they love a challenge.”
Eighth grader Leah Soule said the class allowed her to write at length about her favorite subject, nature.
“It’s like my religion,” she said. “My ideas are mostly centered around nature.”
Ingham said she comes from a literary family and her parents try to write as often as time allows. Even outside of school assignments, Ingham tries to find time to write.
“It takes a lot of time for the inspiration to come, but when it does, it takes off like a rocket,” Ingham said.
Since Monday’s class was the last one of the course, Gault sent the students away with some encouraging words.
“I hope you all keep writing,” Gault said. “I hope you go back to your classrooms and teach your classmates how to do some of these poems you’ve learned.”