March First Friday at the United Arts Council featured four very special guests—student writers from Wake County Schools who had participated in writer residencies through the Artists in Schools program at their schools.
The children brought energy and excitement with them, along with a flock of supporters including family, friends, teachers, school administrators and staff. They responded with enthusiasm to T.J. Shelly’s abstract paints on exhibit in the gallery, eagerly pointing out their favorite pieces and the colors that stood out to them.
Along with their excitement came the familiar sense of anxiety many people experience when speaking in public. Reading one’s own poetry or personal narrative can be especially unnerving.
One of the students remarked, “I’m out of my comfort zone.”
Children also can be less afraid to express their feelings—one of the reasons the arts are so essential to their success in and out of the classroom.
As one mother put it, “[My child] has to write or her day is not complete.”
Like other art forms, creative writing helps children (and adults) understand the world around them and shapes the feelings that they need to express. Writing creatively can help students understand the people in their history books (beyond memorizing dates and facts). It can help them process and appreciate the natural and physical world around them. And it can help them navigate the relationships with family and friends (two-legged and four-legged, real and imaginary) that occupy so much of their time and thoughts.
The four student writers at First Friday had worked with Michael Beadle at Wiley Elementary (poetry); Diane Silcox Jarrett at Cary Elementary (narrative); Megan Oteri at Governor Morehead School (poetry); and Tony Peacock at Northwoods Elementary (personal narrative). They wrote about the first day of school, cupcakes, castles and forests.
According to Helen Meyer, program coordinator at United Arts, “During a writer residency, each participating student spends a minimum of five hours with the writer (this means that writers typically go into a school for one week, and usually they work with one grade level throughout that time). So students have time to develop, revise and edit their writing more substantially than they may ordinarily have time to do.”
This year, United Arts supported 56 writer residencies, including the four represented by the student writers at First Friday.
Creative writing is part of the Artists in Schools program at the United Arts Council because of the natural and essential place it plays in students’ lives. Students learn to transform their ideas into words and practice the all-important revising process from professional writers who come into the classroom and create a themed creative writing opportunity.
For example, Diane Silcox Jarrett explained that the Writer Residency she led at Cary Elementary school was “From Snapshot to Story.”
“I ask them to choose one [black and white photo] that first appeals to them when they see all the photos. After they choose a photo we work on building their characters, setting, and beginning, middle and end. I spend time with them letting them know they already have so much to work with as writers. We work on using your memory when it comes to coming up with details for a story. How do you feel when you are scared or happy? What does a cool breeze really feel like on your face?”
Silcox Jarrett encouraged students to carefully examine and articulate those small details that amount to a whole lot in writing. The student writer she selected to read on First Friday had worked particularly hard on incorporating detail.
Attention to detail, a critical component of creative writing, carries over into many aspects of life—academic, career and personal.
The children at First Friday wrote and revised original poetry and narratives; they overcame nervousness to read their work in front of an audience; and they enjoyed the artwork on exhibit at the United Arts gallery.
Inspiring lifelong participation in the arts is a lofty goal. It is one that the United Arts Council is not afraid to set—one program, one school, one child at a time.
—Karla Heinen, communications coordinator