by Cassie Duncanson

This week, I found myself driving out to Gresham to visit Ms. Alethea Work’s second period class of 38 students. Before the students got to work, Ms. Work wrote an Anaïs Nin quote on the board, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection.”

Local author Emily Prado was visiting as part of the Literary Arts Writers in the Schools (WITS) program to wrap up her time with the students this spring. She began the class by showing them the variety of opportunities they have to engage with the writing community outside of their classroom. Students can submit their work to the Kay Snow writing contest sponsored by Willamette Writers on the River in Corvallis. Students were also reminded to continue working on their letters to local politicians.

At the beginning of the term, many students were concerned with finding ways to organize their writing, and writing more persuasively. Prado took that concern to engage the students in writing letters to an elected official. She invited a local politician who was able to discuss what kinds of letters and writing they find influential.

Students have been working on writing short stories during Prado’s residency. During the class time, students focused on peer review, and seeing how their short stories were or were not successfully reaching their audience. As the students passed their stories around for review, they were encouraged to jot down three compliments and three suggests to each of their classmates. I could have been in a collegiate-level workshop. Ms. Work’s class was graciously supportive, excitedly talking about their friends’ work. “The very first line shines!” “I’m not sure there’s a theme behind it yet.” “I think you need a comma here.” “This pulled me in.” They are writing in a variety of genres, but were reminded to look at word choice, organization, and clarity, and others as a way of strengthening the stories.

I would like to thank Ms. Work and her students for welcoming me into their class. And Ms. Prado for taking the time to explain how and why she structured her classes. At the end of the period, students were reminded to submit these stories to the WITS anthology and, I for one, cannot wait to see the final project.

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Classroom Visit: WITS writer Emilly Prado at Gresham HS