Write on: Summer writing camp keeps students scrawling

Write on: Summer writing camp keeps students scrawling

Summer camp teacher Jeff Lawton discusses the importance of brainstorming and his own personal experiences with writing during the RIWP North Providence summer writing camp. (Breeze photos by Jackie Roman)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – It was a sleepy summer scene outside North Providence High School last Thursday, but inside the school, past the dimmed cafeteria and empty hallways, two classrooms were filled with students opting to spend two weeks of their summer practicing creative writing.

The 20 students, ranging from kindergarten to 10th grade, were participants in the Rhode Island Writing Project’s summer camp – a program designed to explore individual writing interests and help young adults find value in their voice as a writer.

Aimee Ryan, an English teacher at North Providence High School, co-director of the Rhode Island Writing Project, and director of the NPHS summer writing camp, has been involved with the organization for eight years.

“For me, it’s been the best thing to be involved in as a teacher,” Ryan said last Thursday morning, July 20.

A typical day of writing camp begins at 9 a.m. with a 30-minute writing prompt or free-writing. The prompt changes depending on which classroom students are in – instructor Jane Allard teaches grades K through 3, and instructors Deanna Parrillo and Jeff Lawton head up a classroom with the older enrollees.

All instructors participate in the writing activities.

“When they’re writing, we’re writing,” Ryan said.

After the first prompt is completed, students are encouraged to share their work with the group.

“It’s really to get them to be confident in their voices,” Ryan said.

Following this exercise, the instructors usually lead a creative writing exercise. It might be poetry or a micro-memoir, or it could be a scavenger hunt. No matter what, “it’s always creative,” Ryan said.

Last week’s creative exercise asked students to write a 250-word story about a random object supplied to them. The students were asked to practice word association as a method of spurring story ideas.

“I think the key is to just kind of stick with the brainstorming,” Parrillo told the class.

Parillo wrote her word association on the board to demonstrate: The word banana led her to “eating a snack,” then “bruises,” which led to “Baba’s legs bruised,” and, finally, “Baba’s chair” – with “Baba” referring to a grandparent.

Every day of writing camp also includes time for independent writing. Students can wander the halls and find a quiet space perfect for self-reflective writing.

Afterward, the group comes together for what is called the “author’s chair.”

During this time, students read their work and receive “warm and cold” feedback from peers. The exercise exposes students to constructive criticism as well as a support system.

At the end of the two weeks, students receive an anthology of everyone’s best work.

Ryan said participants usually leave feeling inspired.

“To be given two weeks of creative freedom ... it helps them fall in love with writing again,” Ryan said.

Some students return the following summer, once again opting to spend more time in the classroom than on the Cape.

Ryan said writing programs like this are important to continue funding alongside science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

In particular, Ryan said, writing can help students process their own emotions and build confidence.

“It’s teaching them to value their ideas and find their voice,” she said.

Eli Kugler, left, works on a writing prompt alongside Mai Mancini and Max Parrillo.
Mia Osimboni, upcoming 5th-grader, unveils an object she will use as inspiration for writing a 250-word short story during writing camp.
RIWP North Providence High School summer writing camp director Aimee Ryan, above, reads her 250-word short story inspired by the object “potato.”
Elli O’Connell, soon to be a 2nd-grader, participates in the first writing prompt of the day at RIWP North Providence summer writing camp.