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Published: Sunday, 2/14/2010

Writing contest draws 231 from 23 Toledo area schools

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jillian Fournier of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School writes on deadline in the competition at Springfield High School. Jillian Fournier of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School writes on deadline in the competition at Springfield High School.
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The Power of the Pen interscholastic district writing competition went off without a hitch Saturday at Springfield High School - which seemed only fair given that it was originally scheduled there for Feb. 6 and was canceled by the snowstorm.

No matter. The competition for middle school students attracted 231 participants, their imaginations in full flower.

They came from 23 schools, most of which are in Toledo and its suburbs, with the farthest-flung competitors coming from Napoleon Middle School.

The idea was simple. Put kids in a classroom for three 40-minute sessions, give them a phrase or subject called a "prompt" to get them thinking, and then just let them write creatively.

"The main focus is the story they create," said Springfield Middle School Principal Matt Geha, who greeted the competitors.

Susan Van Tuinen, who teaches at Toledo School for the Arts, is a room judge at the district
Power of the Pen competition. She was responsible for posting start and end times for essays. Susan Van Tuinen, who teaches at Toledo School for the Arts, is a room judge at the district Power of the Pen competition. She was responsible for posting start and end times for essays.
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He explained that writing of this sort allows students to express themselves as they please, giving them a respite from structured academic exercises that they're accustomed to in the classroom.

"Sometimes in the classroom it's so narrow," Mr. Geha said. "We want specific content for a specific activity. Today, they do what they like. It's all about creativity. That's what they're judged on."

And creativity ran in torrents, if the students' comments after the three writing rounds were any indication.

Elena Sokolski, 12, an eighth-grader at Maumee's Gateway Middle School, wrote about a girl who overcomes leukemia.

"But it's a bittersweet victory because it took a lot out of her and kind of consumed her whole childhood," Elena explained.

Her Gateway classmate, Erin Butler, 13, said she wrote a story about a successful businesswoman.

"She has a beautiful house and a nice garden, but she is really lonely because she had to walk all over people to get her company where it is," she explained.

Neera Martin of St. Pius X School, writes with concentration. Neera Martin of St. Pius X School, writes with concentration.
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Erin insisted she had no real life inspiration for her moral fable. "I mostly come up with all my stuff on the fly. Nothing is based on anything real," she added.

Erin Brackett, 14, an eighth-grader at Springfield Middle School, used one of her writing rounds to plumb some dark depths. She wrote about a girl who used the label on her father's hat to identify his dead body.

Her classmate Julia Sharman, 14, said her ambition is to write a book when she is older and wiser. She viewed Power of the Pen as preparation for that stage of her life.

"It might be a novel I end up writing," she said. "This is fun for me. It's fun for people who don't do sports. It's creative."

Most of yesterday's participants and almost all of the winners were girls. But Sue Hamann, a Gateway English teacher who coaches the school's Power of the Pen team, ascribed this to coincidence. Last year's competition had many more boys, she said.

The two main organizers of the competition were Greta Siegel and Tom Mockensturm, both English teachers at Springfield Middle School. Mrs. Siegel said this district competition was the largest in the state.

The regional competition will be March 6 at Findlay High School and the state competition May 27 to 29 at the College of Wooster.

The winners' trophies and medals were presented yesterday by Robert Helmer, president of Lourdes College, which provided financial support for the competition.

The eighth grade winner was Hadley Williams of St. Patrick of Heatherdowns school in Toledo. First place in the seventh grade competition went to Madeline Dominique of Holy Trinity School in Swanton.

The top eighth grade school prize went to Little Flower School in Toledo. The top seventh grade prize was won by Perrysburg Junior High.

Contact Carl Ryan at:

carlryan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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