You would think virtual learning would make the experience less than it was in the past, but it’s completely the opposite. COVID-19 has ruined many experiences over the past year. However, virtual learning has made a camp for seven students even better than before. It has provided these young learners with important life skills as well as friendships. Maddie Brother, a junior from Montgomery County High School said, “My favorite thing about Power Your Story was definitely just getting to know people that have the same type of passion for writing that I do.”
Maddie Brother (Montgomery County High School): How Can Different Models of Education Better Your School?
Deanna Mascle, of Morehead State University, and Sarah Webster, of Gallatin County Schools, led the two-week Power Your Story Civic Journalism program that challenged young, inspired students to write about a chosen issue. They help the campers grow through daily meetings, writing prompts, and activities. Teens were provided with the opportunity to develop new skills and improve their writing. The camp was partially funded by the MacArthur Foundation grant so that some of the expenses are covered. The grant covered student fees, t-shirts mailed to participants, and publication costs. The camp accepted applicants from rising eighth graders to graduating seniors from Kentucky and Ohio. The program focused on solution journalism for issues important to the students enrolled.
Trinity Sanchez (Scott High School): From Common to Uncommon
This program gave kids a chance to step out of their comfort zones and find something they are passionate about. Some wrote stories that pulled at the heartstrings, while others wrote about the economy, or how the students were affected during COVID-19. The students involved pushed through nerves to talk to people they had never met before, to ask questions about their passion story. The leaders provided well placed tips to help when the nerves reared its head. Trinity, a senior from Scott High School in Kenton County, said “It was challenging and stressful, but Deanna and Sarah were encouraging and helpful during the experience.” Trinity explained she was able to step out of her comfort zone to track down the information needed to make her story complete. All the students did.
Mia Duggins (Montgomery County): Economic and Poverty Issues Caused by the Pandemic (publication pending)
But what’s better about this program is it wasn’t a writing prompt thrown up on a board. The students were able to pick something that interested them and bring a new perspective to it, or to shine a light on something that is overlooked. They got to dig deeper into the stories, and pour their hearts into. Mia Duggins, an eighth grader from Montgomery County, said “Once I was given a choice it was easier to write about, because I was passionate about the topic.” The students were more interested and involved in the writing then they usually are in school, because it’s something dear to them. One student wrote about water, another wrote about child abuse. One wrote about school systems, the other wrote about mental health. Each and every one of those stories were close to the person in some way, shape, or form.
Serenity Smith (East Carter High School): Mental Health During COVID-19 (publication pending)
During this camp, students were able to truly dive into their writing in a whole new way. From finding their story, to studying research, and reaching out to their community for a different perspective these seven teenagers found a way to use their voices through writing. Throughout these last two weeks the campers have crafted a lengthy article that they’re passionate about. At the end of the camp every single student involved had the same response: this camp improves your writing and helps you improve as a writer. Trinity Sanchez, a senior at Scott High School when asked what she wants others to know about this experience responded with, “It’s a great opportunity to develop as a writer and reader.” Although it can be challenging and at times stressful, the camp creates better writers.
Zoe Warfield (Indian Valley High School in Ohio): Understanding Students During the Pandemic
Furthermore, these students didn’t just improve as writers by themselves; every camper and leader encouraged one another to push themselves to finish their project. Campers took the time to read one another’s stories and give constructive criticism to better their writing. Serenity Smith, a senior at East Carter High School, explained her favorite part of the camp was, “the way we were able to read and comment on others’ writing. It allowed us to give the writer either a new perspective on their topic or gain helpful feedback.” These young writers were able to give each other better insight on their stories and helpful tips that pushed their writing even further to success.
Audrey Barker (West Carter High): Teen Addiction in the U.S.
When attending this camp, the main goal was to push the campers to be better writers. Although growing and changing can be hard, we have learned so much along the way. One thing that helped them to be enthused about their writing was bringing awareness to issues they were passionate about changing. Many topics ranged from mental health, poverty, problems in the foster care system, and much more. Even though the topics were about different issues, most of them intertwined with each other making it easier for them to help one another. In this short period of time, two weeks later, they learned a lot from each other. Not just about their topics, but how to interact and talk with peers. Unlike most journalism programs, they were given the choice to choose what they wanted to write about. Mia Duggins,a Montgomery County eighth-grader said, “My experience was better than I imagined it to be. I expected to be given a prompt and write about it but instead I was given a choice. Once I was given a choice it was easier to write about because I was passionate about the topic.” Given the chance to bring awareness to an issue along with the challenges to become a better writer, they all enjoyed time together and helping each other grow as young journalists.
Throughout this two-week camp, seven girls who had never met each other or had any prior connection with one another came together to create seven amazing stories. When asked to share something unexpected about the Power Your Story experience, Audrey Barker, a freshman from West Carter High responded with, “I didn’t really expect everyone to work together like we did. I loved the effort everyone put into making each other better.” Although this is a writing camp the true heart of this experience is in the connections and friendships made between all the campers and even the leaders. Power Your Story created a safe, supportive environment for the young journalists to express their ideas and passions through writing. Brianna Romans, a senior at East Carter High said, “My favorite thing about the journalism program was connecting with the people.” Zoe Warfield, a sophomore at Indian Valley High School agreed, “I was a little worried since I was the only one from Ohio that maybe I wouldn’t understand everyone’s topics completely since I am from a different state, but on the contrary, everyone was super open and willing to help each other. It is a very welcoming environment for students…” These students finished this camp not only as better writers but also with new friends.
In the two weeks of camp, all seven campers have grown as writers and members of the community. They have participated in many assignments and group efforts to help each other draft and complete passion projects. This program has strengthened their skills and allowed them to bring together different ideas and problems they see in their community and its future. They are all very pleased with the experiences here and are excited to see their articles and stories being published for other campers to read. One of the campers, Mia concluded her experience, “I believe when you are passionate about something you put more heart into your piece and it connects with the reader better than it ever could have before.” The campers all agree that this camp gave them a voice to share stories about the hardships in their communities and experience something they have never had the chance to experience before. The program would not have been possible without Deanna Mascle and Sarah Webster. Trinity, a senior at Scott High School, spoke for all the campers stating, “We’d like to say thanks to both of them, and everyone else involved for making this program an encouraging and fun learning experience.”
Visit the National Writing Project’s Our Democracy web site to read the stories written by the 2021 cohort of Power Your Story as well as other MacArthur funded summer journalism camps.