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Young writers hone their skills at summer camp
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For many middle school students, writing is a task best relegated to the school year. Putting pen to paper is a homework chore, not a leisure time activity.

But for 16 fifth through eighth grade students at California State University, Stanislaus this week, writing is a passion.

Or at least it’s something interesting enough to come to summer camp for.

Students from Turlock, Hilmar, Denair, Hughson, Modesto, and as far away as Stockton journeyed to CSU Stanislaus the past two weeks for the Turlock Young Writers Workshop, a program offered by the Great Valley Writing Project for more than 20 years.

The students underwent intensive writing sessions. They visited with published authors, poets, journalists and columnists. They – sometimes nervously – shared their heartfelt and humorous work with one another.

While it sounds like a rough two weeks for the ink averse, it was a life-changing experience for participants who love writing.

“I came here to write better,” said Julia Lopez, a seventh grader from Stockton. “I like to write and I feel like I have all these ideas in my head.”

But, whenever Lopez sat down to write, those ideas always came out on paper wrong, she said.

Young Writer’s Program instructor Kaye Osborn, a former teacher at Modesto’s Lakewood Elementary School and current instructor for deaf and hard of hearing students at Modesto Junior College, said Lopez’s experience isn’t uncommon. Everyone has a hard time at first.

“For most writers, we might do our first draft and it becomes barfy or gobbledygook,” Osborn said. “No one writes a perfect first draft.”

The first day of class was all about barf, Osborn said. By thinking about barf as a good thing, an acronym for brainstorm, audience, reason, and format – four crucial things to think about before starting writing – students learned to enter writing prepared.

And once you start writing, it’s all about spit, Osborn said.  The sparkle, pizzazz, interest, and technical grammar needed to tell a story interestingly, of course.

Students also learned to embrace so-called “dollar words” rather than humdrum five-cent vocabulary. Rather than simply describing an object as big, they learned the importance of saying gigantic, or extravagant, perhaps.

Students put their skills to the test through immersion sessions, where “You go outside and look at something and express your feelings through it,” according to Taylor Miguel, an eighth grader from Turlock. Given the CSU Stanislaus setting, many of the five-sense influenced pieces included honking ducks, but one student journeyed to the mall to write an immersion story full of frantic shoppers and neon lights.

The class entailed other writing exercises as well, ranging from writing circles to idea expansions – writing a story with just a starting phrase like, “it was quiet,” or “it broke” – and acrostic poems, a favorite of Carissa Seth, a sixth grader from Modesto.

Students even had the opportunity to act out their written words, displaying back and forth “go-togethers” where things like salt and pepper argue about their differences before agreeing life is better together at the end.

According to student Sarah Younen, a seventh grader from Turlock, the two-week course has been a boon to her writing skills.

“Before (writing) used to be kind of hard for me, but I’m getting better,” Younen said. “It’s actually kind of fun now.”

That kind of transformation is just what the Young Writers Program is all about, according to Osborn.

“It’s kind of amazing what can happen in 10 days,” she said.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.