The act of writing can be cathartic, informative and inspiring, so it’s no surprise that a room full of high school sophomores chose to devote a portion of their summer to summer learning through journalism. The best part is, they don’t look at the camp as summer learning, they just see it as a chance to produce original works that will be published as a school newspaper.
Some students sit with headphones blaring while others lay their head on the desk succumbing to the overwhelming heat in non-air conditioned Clay Elementary classroom.
Less than an hour later, the students are chatting and doing research in the computer lab. They’ve given up 12 mornings from their summer to write news stories for a student newspaper.
The program is run by StudioSTL, an organization started by an attorney to provide free writing opportunities for K-12 students. The teen writing program has been producing student newspapers since 2005 and has published four volumes of poetry and prose written by middle and high school students.
StudioSTL began when its founder and executive director, Beth Ketcher, noticed something about the students in her daughter’s second-grade class.
“At an early age the kids weren’t even comfortable telling their own stories, and when they wanted to put it down on the page it became even more difficult,” she said.
In 2004 she quit her law practice to create a community writing center available for young writers of all skill levels. Ketcher and StudioSTL volunteers partner with schools for workshops, provide after-school tutoring and writing programs in the summer months.
The program is modeled from a San Francisco organization called 826 Valencia, which was founded by writer Dave Eggers in 2002. They still collaborate with Eggers’ program expanded to a national group, including chapters in Seattle, Brooklyn, Washington and Chicago.
The teen writing program focuses on news style so young writers can explore community issues, talk to experts and share their work with a wider audience, Ketcher said.
“The ability to see that your hard work is going to pay off is essential,” she said.
While early editions of the students’ paper focused on predictable teen topics like fashion and music, this year’s students chose to take on weightier issues like abusive relationships, stereotyping and the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial. By letting students explore the questions on their minds, Ketcher said, they foster valuable critical thinking skills and learn that their voice is valued.
“I’m sort of excited I’m going to get my point of view across,” said Jamare Cross, 15, a student at Cleveland High School.
Jamare said he chose to write about Trayvon Martin because he felt Zimmerman should have been in jail.