Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 12:31 PM on Wednesday, March 7, 2012

At Writers' Fair, pictures plus words tell the story

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Wynand Strydom's writing of "The Zit" captured the attention of his classmates, but illustrating is was the part Wynand liked best.

If a picture's worth a thousand words, the third- through sixth-grade students at West Homer Elementary School Writers' Fair said it all with their tribute to language arts, a combination of student art and writing.

Weeks of hard work by the students culminated Friday when 35 judges from the community heard the students read selected pieces of writing. Then, between 5-7 p.m., their works were presented to family and friends in the school gym to a First Friday crowd.

"Many parents were delighted to hear their students read, and were surprised at how well they read and the quality of their stories. The judges loved the process. Teachers and staff were pleased to see all students involved in the writing process and the satisfaction that students felt at the end of a 'hard' process that required effort," said Lyn Maslow, one of the WHES organizers of the event.

Lisa Whip, the school librarian, observed the students' increased interest in reading as a result of the event.

"The one thing that I would add is how the art inspired the writing piece and in some cases the writing piece drove the art," said Whip. "The West Homer culture is one that combines literacy and art in order to help children find their voice."

Finding their individual voices came through weeks of hard work preceding Friday's event.

"The students learned that they are all capable writers, and the writing process can be fun, but hard work," said Maslow. "Revision is critical."

Artist-in-the-school Sandy Gillespie worked with the students on the visual literacy component.

During the day on Friday, teams of judges went to assigned classrooms to hear students read their work. The judges were directed to ask questions, make a positive verbal comment about the writing and also make written comments. The written comments became part of the Friday night exhibit.

"We wanted every student's writing to be validated, and so the committee developed questions and a positive format the judges could use for feedback," said Maslow.

Cheyanne Sadler used her black and white image of a panda to illustrate her thoughts on language art.

"Language art is like caring for a vicious panda hiding in the leaves. A panda is black and white and a piece of paper is white with black words," began Sadler's piece. She carried that thought through to a surprise ending that had judges laughing at her clever use of humor.

Third-grader River Mann drew from a close relationship with a family member to write "The Oldest Person I Know," illustrating it with photographs. Gage Harris, also a third-grade student, combined science, writing and his sharp wit to create a tribute to "Freaky Fungus" while Raychel Gerald's love of sunrises was evident in her poem "Painted Skies."

Fifth-grader Emilia Halstead said it was the art that inspired her writing of "Roaring Tiger." In response, judge and Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board member Liz Downing wrote of Emilia's piece, "I loved the repetition that takes us deeper into the imagery. It was dark and surprising. Great job!"

Nick Yakunin began by creating an illustration for his love of basketball. Writing "The Point" came second. Levi Dabney went for a surprise ending in "Four Eyed Squid." While his classmates were drawn to Wynand Strydom's writing of "The Zit," it was developing a collage to illustrate it that Wynand liked best about the process.

The Writers' Fair is part of a three-year cycle that has developed at West Homer: one year the emphasis is on science, the next on art, and the next on writing. While art was clearly part of this year's fair, the emphasis was "language arts."

"The students felt proud of their final piece, even if they weren't enamored by the process all of the time," said Maslow. "The positive feedback was powerful for all the kids. I was also amazed by the diversity of writings. ... The diversity was fun, and all the kids, regardless of age or grade enjoyed hearing each other and were engaged listeners. The event was truly a collaborative effort. Every single staff member worked hard to pull it off."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.