Thursday, March 21, 2013

WNY Young Writers' Studio

I attended the annual Poetry Slam at Amherst High School last week, and was once again blown away by poems the students wrote and shared. The energy in that room was intoxicating.

As I sat at the Poetry Slam thinking back to my days in school, I don’t remember being given a lot of chances to write creatively. For me, I’ve always been able to best express myself through writing; whether it be a journal I kept under my bed, writing for the school newspaper or through this and other blogs.

I asked my boyfriend (an English teacher at Amherst High School) how much creative writing is in the curriculum now, and he said very little. Sadly, the focus is on the tests. How, then, are kids supposed to find ways to express themselves and get constructive feedback on their work?

The answer, surprisingly, came to me through Twitter. I was looking at my “Who to Follow” suggestions when I came across the WNY Young Writers' Studio. Intrigued, I checked out their website and gave them a follow. A few days later, I contacted the Executive Director, Angela Stockman, and we spent some time chatting last week about the group. 

Founded in April of 2008, Angela had a vision of creating a collaborative writing community for students and teachers. A community where the teachers are also the students and the students are also the teachers. After working in the classroom as a writing teacher for years, and then running professional development workshops for teachers, she found a need for students to have the opportunity to write creatively. 

The first year brought 15 – 25 students from around Western New York together to learn what good writing is, have the chance to write, and spend time learning how to become a peer reviewer and use constructive criticism to better your writing. 

Five years later, the community is thriving, with over 75 registered students, and a growing group of dedicated teachers!

The WNY Young Writers Studio offers a year-long fellowship program to students and teachers who attend a session once a month on Saturdays and a week-long intensive in the summer. The cost to attend is $180/year for students. There is no cost for teacher fellows. If you do not have the money to pay for the class, but are interested, scholarships may be available. 

Students as young as first grade through high school can attend. Groups are split up by age; Grades 1 - 5 & Grades 6 - 12.  The focus is on creative writing. "We all learn through our experiences. We take experiences we have had and use them to guide us into great writing." Angela told me. 

"A big part of our discussion explores peer review. Students and teachers are given the skills to constructively review work. Each session ends with peer review. Writing is such overwhelming work. We don't get better in a day or two, it takes months or years. Our goal is to find ways to sustain the energy students have throughout the entire learning process so they don't get discouraged."

The 5th year of the WNY Young Writers' Studio is bringing about some changes! In April, Angela will unveil a new space that will allow the group to continue to expand and reach more in the community. In addition, they will be releasing a new catalog of workshops that will be open to writers of all ages. 

For students/adults who want to get more involved in writing, Angela says to begin to reflect on the things you enjoy. Start a daily journal and keep track of what made you smile each day. From there, ideas for writing will start flowing! 

As I spoke with Angela, I could feel and hear her passion for this program. Many students are looking for a way to express themselves, a way to deal with sadness and an avenue to share joy. Writing is such a healthy outlet that can improve self-esteem. Being able to write down your thoughts and explore your feelings can provide such a needed outlet, not only for students, but everyone. 

To register for the upcoming fellowship year, or to find out more information about the WNY Young Writers' Studio, you can contact Angela by phone at 716-418-3730 or by e-mail at I know I'll be keeping an eye out for the new catalog of workshops. I'm looking forward to finding new ways to enhance my writing and work with others who share the same passion as me!

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