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Published: Friday, 3/14/2014 - Updated: 4 months ago

POWER OF PEN COMPETITION GOES AHEAD

Young writers unfreeze fears to let passion for words flow

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo School for the Arts teacher Suzanne Van Tuinen, standing at a TSA table, left, hands a dictionary to Jack Kerger, an eighth grader, before the start of the Power of the Pen tournament. Toledo School for the Arts teacher Suzanne Van Tuinen, standing at a TSA table, left, hands a dictionary to Jack Kerger, an eighth grader, before the start of the Power of the Pen tournament.
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Oh, my word.

In the end, the power of the plow cleared the way for the Power of the Pen competition to proceed.

It was icy, it was dicey.

When the white-gloved fist of winter once again pummeled the region’s midsection, the writing contest was postponed a day.

Many roadways, however, remained ribbons of ice Thursday morning. Schools were shuttered. Disappointment capped the competitive season for dozens of students.

RELATED LINK: Power of the Pen results

Only about half of the 300 competitors who had advanced to the regional event managed to skate into Sylvania, many arriving late at Lourdes University’s Franciscan Center.

Delay after delay jangled nerves. Before pencil or pen was put to paper, you could feel the tension.

Some writers eased jitters by listening to whatever 7th and 8th graders listen to these days; others chewed up time with food. Nibbled doughnuts. Put the bite on bunches of bananas. Downed bottles of juice.

Writers scooted chairs into tight circles, huddled like sports teams awaiting the drop of the puck, the kickoff, the first pitch in tournament play.

Robin Langlais of Medina, Ohio, a Power of the Pen staff member, said she admires students for their competitive nature. “They are like a sports team,” she said. Writers bonded by love, or at least affection, for the written word.

Napoleon Middle School eighth graders Abby Thomas, 14, and Madison Parker, also 14, read before the competition. Napoleon Middle School eighth graders Abby Thomas, 14, and Madison Parker, also 14, read before the competition.
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Power of the Pen is Ohio’s leading interscholastic program in written expression.

Mary Anderson of Akron, an event staffer, put in a good word — or two — for the program. It develops language skills; strengthens creative writing, and makes a positive impact on academic achievement overall.

At a nearby table, Madison Parker, 14, an eighth grader at Napoleon Middle School in Henry County, said she was a “little nervous” but confident she’d be fine once she started to write. “I just like being able to write stories that I make up in my head,” she said.

Abby Thomas, 14, also a student at the Napoleon school, takes part in Power of the Pen to hone her writing skills and to find her own voice.

Students often rely on personal experiences to write flash fiction after receiving prompts during competition rounds. But then students “fluff it up,” Madison said. They make stories more detailed; more dramatic, Abby added.

Then came the announcement. Competition soon would begin. Students filed into a nearby auditorium where, to break the ice, song lyrics encouraged the young writers to be brave as they competed, to let their words fall out.

Exactly, exactly what Lorraine Merrill of Richfield, Ohio, had in mind when she founded Power of the Pen 29 years ago at a time when writing lessons were boring, repetitive. “We were underestimating the students. We were not challenging them,” she said.

Passion for the written word punctuates her talking points.

Middle-school aged students, she said, “are wonderful, wonderful writers,” and Power of the Pen encourages and showcases those talents.

Executive director of the popular program, Mrs. Merrill marvels at the success — not hers, but theirs. Students once reluctant to write — stories, poems, or school newspaper articles — join Power of the Pen and soon embrace the wonderful world of words.

Today, the program proclaims its presence in 75 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Winners at the regional level advance to state finals in May. “What I wished for has come true. It’s happening. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the teachers and the students,” she said. “You see the students, they find their voice. You see them, they love learning. You see them, they are writing. It’s terrific.”

Much more than a contest, the program is a vital teaching tool, said the founder, a retired teacher and now a teacher of teachers.

The best of the best Power of the Pen writing is published annually, she said.

Teachers use the book to guide young writers so they too find their voices. And the power of the pen.

Contact Janet Romaker at: jromaker@theblade.com or 419-724-6006.


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