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Norton Fellow Anna Turner Inspires Young Writers

"WriteOn!" is the name of an after-school creative writing program that junior Anna Turner developed for students in grades four, five, and six at St. Gabriel's School in Windsor, Conn., which completed its initial seven-week session during this year's winter term.

Modeled after the creative writing program for school-aged children that Anna originated last summer through a Norton Fellowship, "WriteOn!" draws on her experience encouraging young people to embrace writing as an enjoyable endeavor. By modifying her summer project into a program that the Loomis community can offer locally, Anna brings her commitment for the Norton Fellowship full circle.

With direction from Sally Knight, English teacher and director of writing initiatives at Loomis Chaffee, Anna and Loomis volunteer leaders juniors Margaret DeLaMater and Avery Lena and sophomore Kaitlin Donovan engaged St. Gabriel's students in creative and entertaining writing activities one afternoon per week for seven weeks. The program enrolled eight boys and girls ranging in age from 9 to 11.

"Reviewing and revising the writing prompts and activities she engaged with her summer students, Anna designed a full winter's worth of weekly writing workshops for students at ... St. Gabriel's School," explained Sally. "On the Thursday afternoon drives to St. Gabriel's, Anna would review with her fellow 'WriteOn!' volunteers the afternoon's writing activity; then, on the way home, she would debrief with them. ... Anna's clear vision for and explanation of writing activities paired with her warm personality had the [St. Gabriel's] students immediately comfortable, and they put their pencils to paper with plenty of creativity, laughter, and sharing of ideas and stories."

Alice, a fourth-grade participant, said she enjoyed the program. "A flyer went home and I'm into writing stories, so I thought it would be a good idea," she remarked. "We've done a lot of cool activities and it's been really fun."

"A lot of kids that age don't think of writing as fun or as a creative outlet," said Anna. "It was really fulfilling to watch them become engaged in a writing activity, and watching them think out loud."

It was also exciting to see kids come to understand that they can use writing to further enjoy something they already are passionate about, Anna said. She shared the example of a boy in the summer program who was passionate about soccer and didn't think he would enjoy writing. Expressing his feelings about soccer by writing about them changed his opinion about writing because it was focused on a subject he greatly enjoyed.

The St. Gabriel's project did pose some challenges for Anna. A self-described perfectionist, Anna found it difficult to break out of the "teacher/instructor" mindset when working with the kids and get into the mindset of "leader/facilitator." It was difficult for her sometimes to shift gears and change the direction of an activity when it was warranted by an individual or by the group dynamic, she said. Anna credits Sally with helping her adapt and redefine activities to help keep the kids engaged, rather than remaining committed to a lesson plan that wasn't working for everyone.

At the last session, Anna, Margaret, and Avery engaged the club members in a mock news broadcast activity. After first outlining the "jobs" the kids would fill, including researcher, news writer, editor, and television news anchor, participants wrote brief "pitches" explaining why they would be good in the roles of their choice. After boisterous brainstorming and writing sessions, the groups presented their wildly creative, over-the-top silly news broadcasts to the delight of fellow club members and their Loomis leaders. Some of the outrageous headlines: "Sunny with a chance of blood – beware of vampires!" and "Five tigers escaped from the ear wax zoo!"

At the start of the St. Gabriel's program, each club participant was given a writing journal for use during the session, and Anna was pleased that many of the participants were eager to take them home and continue writing.

Anna said she enjoyed working with kids in grades four, five, and six, because, at that age, children are generally open-minded about trying new things.

Anna will pass the baton to junior Cara Keogh and sophomore Claire Bogart to lead "WriteOn!" in spring term, while she plays on the Loomis tennis team, but she has not ruled out taking part again next year.

"It's really inspiring to watch them in action, and it makes me feel optimistic about the future," Anna said.