Students from two Shelby County middle schools are now published poets thanks to an ongoing partnership to bring the Writing Our Stories program into seventh-grade classrooms at both Columbiana Middle and Montevallo Middle schools.
According to Jeanie Thompson, Executive Director of the Alabama Writers’ Forum, the Shelby County School District first began a partnership in 2011 with the Shelby County Arts Council to bring the program into the two schools. Funding for the program is provided by the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Alabama Power Foundation’s Elevate Grant program, and other funders. Through the program, the Alabama Writers’ Forum conducted ten-week residencies in seventh-grade English Language Arts classrooms taught by Elizabeth Birdsong at Columbiana Middle and Evelyn Moore at Montevallo Middle.
The finished work of the students was published in two books – “A New Day” by Montevallo Middle School students and “War of Words” by Columbiana Middle School students.
“Award-winning poet Tony Crunk has directed the workshops and edited the anthologies of young writers’ poems,” Thompson wrote in a letter printed in the opening contents of each book. “He has immersed these young people in the craft of creative writing which fosters self-expression, builds self-esteem, and improves the students’ overall writing abilities.”
This year marked the fourth year for Columbiana Middle School to participate in the program and the third for Montevallo Middle. Both Birdsong and Moore said they grateful for the opportunity the Writing Our Stories program affords their students to discover the job of writing.
“As a teacher, I was extremely excited about the program because I was aware of the incredible opportunity it provides for students to not only learn and explore the craft and structure of good writing, but also to find their voices and individuality, and to realize a talent that many did not even know they possessed,” said Moore.
Birdsong said her students were hesitant about the process at first but discovered a whole new world of writing once some walls were broken down.
“The writing prompts are designed to make students connect with the subject and all the writing to come from their heart and reveal raw honesty and passion,” said Birdsong. “We laughed, applauded, and cried as we heard from one another stories and images that have shaped our lives. Their writing comes from personal experience and reflection and displays raw truth and wide imagination.”
Moore’s students also expressed some hesitancy about the project at first but were eventually won over by guest instructor, Tony Crunk, who helped facilitate the 10-week writing workshops at both schools. Once students got to know Crunk and experience his enthusiasm for writing, they became more invested in the project.
“Students began to immerse themselves in the lessons and produce incredible work,” said Moore. “Even the most resistant writers were able to produce quality writing, and I believe that they even surprised themselves with the depth of their reflections.”
Moore added that the true beauty of the Writing Our Stories project is that it is not just a gift that lasts for the duration of the project itself, but a gift that sustains for years afterward.
“While the end result is a collection of poetry that is reflective, meaningful and entertaining, it is the intangible qualities – a growth of confidence, a new-found respect for themselves and their classmates, the discovery of an untapped potential or hidden voice – that will carry them well beyond their seventh-grade year and will be with them for a lifetime.”