On March 21, a group of S[R] interns visited the students in Mrs. Burnquist’s senior creative writing class at Combs High School to lead a workshop with some of San Tan Valley’s most accomplished and ambitious 18-year-olds. This was the fourth in a series of collaborations with Combs that began in the fall of 2012.
The students prepared 100-word stories prior to our visit, inspired by this website 100 Word Story. They had copies of their stories in hand. As I went over the workshop plans in the days before, I built up a small arsenal of tools and techniques to get the discussion going. I expected to be pulling comments out of a reticent group, but they seemed more comfortable with the workshop structure than I was.
After initial instructions to my small group of six students, I confessed that I was a bit of a fraud and had never even been in a writing workshop myself. One of the students turned to me and said, “Well, you’re doing just fine.” From that moment on, I was able to abandon all anxieties and simply enjoy the freshness they brought to our workshop. I was impressed with the level of engagement with their 100-word assignment. Each of the six students I worked with brought a deeply original story to the classroom and offered kind words and gentle criticism to their classmates.
Our discussion ranged from story conflict to that weekend’s prom to our career paths. Although no one in my group planned to major in creative writing in college, they each possessed an enthusiasm for writing that I sometimes find missing in my collegiate English classes. “What do you like to read?” they asked me, spiraling into a discussion of their favorite books. “What do you like to write most – fiction or poetry?” “What’s your writing routine?” We had a spare twenty minutes at the end of the class period to answer some of these questions as a group, though I think some of them still left with new questions.
These students, when they aren’t reading or crafting their own stories and poems, create the school’s online literary magazine, IMPRINT. You can view their latest contrast-themed issue here. During our visit to the school last semester, we discussed the importance of social media in developing an online presence. Since then, the students launched a website and have been developing a whole social media presence with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages.
Before we left the classroom, Jess Burnquist pulled us aside and told us that her single creative writing class is expanding into two next year because of the growing interest in the class material and the production of IMPRINT. This is truly an inspiring development, one that demonstrates the power of passionate teachers and ambitious, creative students.
Our partnership with Combs High School is also expanding this semester as S[R] will be participating in their Community Poetry Night on April 26. We’re looking forward to celebrating the voices of Combs that night, and we’ll be watching for the brilliant work they produce individually and at IMPRINT for years to come.