Author workshops help kids learn the write stuff

Professionals share their expertise in popular program

Professional writer Carrie Kellerby , left, of Grand Junction holds the book “Holy Schmoley! Hijoli!” as Jesus Tanori, 10, reads the poem he wrote aloud to his classmates Tuesday during a Writers in the Schools spring celebration at Riverside Park on Tuesday.

In only its second year, a new writing program in western Colorado has broken records for both schools and writers.

Writers in the Schools, sponsored by Colorado Humanities and in partnership with the Western Colorado Writers’ Forum, brings professional, trained writers into Colorado classrooms to conduct a series of workshops. The workshops conclude with a published anthology and public reading of student work.

“Our job when we go into schools is to take away the fear and teach rhythm, beauty and magic in writing,” said Sandra Dorr, program coordinator for the Western Slope.

The local program began in the fall of 2011 at Pomona Elementary and Scenic Elementary, with residencies by Dorr and Jill Burkey. Residencies last six to 10 weeks, when published writers visit a classroom once or twice a week for 45 minutes to 90 minutes to teach prose and poetry to students.

This past school year, the program expanded to seven schools with more than 900 students taught by writers. The Western Slope program is now the largest WITS program in the state. Writers this year taught at Tope Elementary, Mesa View Elementary, Scenic Elementary and Dual Immersion Academy, as well as at Mt. Garfield Middle School and Grand Junction High School. Writers also taught at Bea Underwood Elementary in Parachute.

“It just exploded this year and we’re trying to keep up with it,” Dorr said.

The program is the first large-scale program of writers in schools on the Western Slope, since the ending of the Colorado Arts Council in the 1980s.

This year the Western Slope WITS published seven anthologies of student poetry and hosted a series of celebrations at each school. The anthologies contain one piece of writing by each student involved and will be available in both school and public libraries.

There was dual cause for celebration for Dual Immersion Academy at their festivity Tuesday at Riverside Park. Along with the anthology celebration, the school also celebrated its 10th anniversary. The Dual Immersion Academy anthology is the first bilingual anthology published in the program.

“We think it’s great in the sense that we really want to encourage our students to find their voice as writers, and be creative writers. We realize that these type of things at this age spark students’ interests in writing,” said Monica Heptner, principal at Dual Immersion Academy.


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