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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Mightier Than The Sword: Middle-School Word Wizards

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Molly O'Dowd and Hayleigh Hazard put pen to paper to create characters during a Dec. 13 UNITY sponsored writing workshop.
North Adams - Give them an inch and they'll take a column.

Members of a new middle-school creative writing workshop are taking full advantage of the guidance and encouragement offered by group facilitator Cynthia Saunders, a Wahconah High School English teacher.

The Time And The Place

Molly O'Dowd, 12, a Silvio O.Conte Middle School student, Conte student Hayleigh Hazard, 11, Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School student Tay Santelli, 11, and Adams Memorial Middle School student Cassidy Matthew claim a shared passion: all four love writing.

"I really enjoy writing and this gives me the time and the place to do it," said Cassidy.


Wahconah High School teacher Cynthia Saunders is the workshop facilitator.
The workshop launched on Dec. 6 and meets weekly on Wednesday afternoon. The group is sponsored by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's United Neighboring Interdependent Trusted Youth [UNITY] initiative.

UNITY has offered a high school writing program for eight years. Program writers are preparing to publish an 8th volume of "Somewhere Between: A Journal of Teenage Writing" and will host an evening of reading from the book sometime next year.

It was the popularity of the high school workshop that served as the catalyst for the middle school group, said Kate Merrigan, UNITY program associate.

During the 2005-06 school year, several eighth grade students asked about participating with the existing teen writing workshop.

To Be Published

Merrigan said that student parents agreed that their children could be part of the high school group, but because of creative maturity differences, the situation was not ideal.

The answer was to launch a group for middle school students, Merrigan said. A Massachusetts Cultural Council YouthReach program grant was used to fund the new group, she said.

"This workshop is based on the same format, but it's for the sixth, seventh, and eight grade students," Merrigan said. "We plan to publish a volume of their writing and we plan a public reading for this group, too. Actually, I think the public reading is the best part of the workshops. This is our first year, our experimental year, and we have kids from three schools. I'd like to see some more kids join in, kids from Mount Greylock [Mount Greylock Regional High School] or Clarksburg."

Tay Santelli listened as Saunders outlined a writing exercise.


Creative Writing

The Dec. 13 afternoon session at the NBCC 85 Main St. office was focused on creation of fictional characters. Saunders asked the young scribes to assemble a dossier of descriptive phrases or words that could be ascribed to a character.

"The only rule is there is no rule," she said. "You can put down anything you like that helps create a character."

After creating brief dossiers and then completing another writing exercise, the writers were ready to discuss the characters that were emerging from their work. A portion of the 90-minute session is dedicated to private writing and confidentiality about what is shared during that time must be respected, Merrigan and Saunders said.

Erin Floriani of Readsboro, Vt. is a Berkshire Community College student and assists Saunders during the workshop sessions.

Putting It In Writing

"I think it's important for students who enjoy writing to have an outlet for writing," she said.

Molly and Hayleigh like to craft original stories, they said.

"I like to write and I think this will help me," said Molly.


Cassidy Matthew assigned characteristics that could be used to form a fictional story character.
"I've been writing for a long time and I want to get better," said Hayleigh. "I want to be an author, and I want to meet other people who like writing."

Tay shared an original poem and a short family-oriented holiday story. Her mother consistently encouraged creative writing among Tay and her siblings, she said. For example, when she was younger, Tay joined other family members and penned Halloween stories that were shared when completed, she said.

"Then I started writing stories for each month," Tay said. "I got a journal with blank pages and I wrote poems in it. I've gotten proficient at it and I have a collection of poems that I'd like to get published."

The group is open to new members, Merrigan said. Middle school students who are interested in joining the creative writing workshop may contact Merrigan at 413-663-7588 or at kmerrigan@nbccoalition.org .

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or 413-663-3384 ext. 29.
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