That scene at Union Primary is being repeated at other primary and middle schools in Lee and Wise counties this summer as part of the Youth Writing Project. More than 100 students from the area have been participating in a week-long camp to develop a taste for storytelling and creative writing skills.
McCarty, coordinator of the YWP camp at Union Primary, and Gilley work as a team to help their group of students develop characters through a Lego-based program that lets students create a character and a situation. From that point, the students build their character and scenes through a variety of Lego sets.
In a process familiar to many amateur and professional writers, the students then take their characters and scenes and learn to develop stories with plot and additional characters.
Gilley said the students then can select printable backdrops to form a scene with the three-dimensional scenes, photograph them and combine them with their written stories into what will become printed story anthologies.
Down the hall from McCarty’s and Gilley’s class, teaching team Vicki Thomas and Beverly Hurley see their students doing the same process as they make up characters and build stories around them.
Amy Clark, director of the Appalachian Writing Project, said the Young Writers Project grew from AWP’s work with educators in developing ways to teach writing in school classrooms.
Since 2013, Clark said, the Young Writers Project has used a variety of techniques to make writing interesting to students. The Lego program allows students to combine computers with actual building and photography to experience writing, editing and publishing.
At nearby Union Middle School, teachers Amy Slagle, David Sturgill and Dena Barton work with fifth and sixth-graders as they develop their own range of tales.
“Fairy tales to space stories to a story about a dragon — it’s all going on here,” said Slagle as she and her team watched their students organizing Lego scenes for what will become a class anthology of stories that will be presented to families later this summer.
“The kids are free to create, and they spend much of their time collaborating in that creation,” said Slagle. “They learn a lot about editing and constructive criticism. It gives them an outlet to be more hands-on with their learning.”
Slagle, grinning as she pointed to the occasional Lego in the floor, said there is one occupational hazard for her team if they decided to go barefoot in class.
Clark credited the Slemp Foundation with funding the Young Writers Project since its inception. This summer, the program reaches 22 students in Lee County and another 85 in three Wise County schools.
“It’s easy to implement,” Clark said. “It works at all levels and it invites collaboration among students. Any time you can get students involved in hands-on learning is a good thing.”
Clark said this summer’s program is taking its first steps into a high school-level program with the High School Writers Studio in conjunction with UVa-Wise’s Wise Writes campus program. The week-long June 10-14 studio focuses on a challenge familiar to high schoolers thinking about their college applications — the personal narrative essay.
The deadline for applications to this summer’s studio is Friday, June 7. Information on the studio and applications can be found at https://www.uvawise.edu/academics/academic-support/wise-writes/high-school-writers/.