More than 100 sixth-graders from Forestville Elementary School participated in the Great Falls Writer’s Group (GFWG) first Youth Creative Writing Contest. Winners will be announced and read their works during the afternoon event themed “Every Child Is A Storyteller” from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, at the first Great Falls Book Festival at the Great Falls Library.
The GFWG started the contest to encourage and inspire young writers and reward their efforts. As a student, GFWG Member Michael Cappitelli won a similar contest. “Placing second reinforced that I was on a good path because I then went to university as a communications arts major.”
That experience provided a self-confident foundation to pursue writing. Now the Reston resident and other GFWG members provide a similar opportunity for local children. “Being part of the contest made me feel like I had something to contribute – that what I say matters,” says Cappitelli.
“Great writers don’t become great writers overnight. Influences throughout the years create a cannon of thoughts that become stories of their own,” says Miller, president of the Friends of the Great Falls Library and founder of the local Kids’ Book Club.
GFWG writers determined two writing prompts from which sixth graders could choose. One prompt drew from personal experience. The other prompt required writing about an illustration from a soon-to-be published book by local children’s author and illustrator, Brenda Klimavitz, of Vienna.
STUDENTS HAD ONLY 30 MINUTES to write. While their teacher graded the classroom assignment based on her students’ abilities, essays were also assigned a number to achieve anonymity and submitted to contest judges who weighed writing based on creative and original merits.
With the guidance of Forestville Elementary School Principal Todd Franklin and teacher Jennifer Donlon, judging criteria was established using standards already required for sixth-graders, but originality and creativity were deciding rubric factors. Fairfax County Public Schools approved the contest because the assignment is fairly administered, fits into student curriculum, and no outside influence from peers, siblings, or parents can influence or skew results, vocabulary or creativity in the assignment. Each submission is original and only from the mind and heart of each student.
GFWG members administered the contest, but judging was done solely by non-GFWG members who routinely work with or write for young readers.
Judges include Beth Jannery, director of the Journalism Program at George Mason University; Laura Malone Elliott, a published and nationally-known author who writes historical fiction for children and young adults; and Daniela Dixon, librarian and manager of the Great Falls Library.
“Some young writers were very brave and raw in their writing, which gave me goose bumps at times. Others were funny and curious and had me laughing,” said Jannery about the entries. “I was inspired in meaningful ways by them all. What hope I have for this generation of writers.”
During the book festival’s afternoon event targeting young readers and writers, Children’s Author Courtney Pippin-Mathur from Alexandria will help youngsters find their titles and start writing their own books.
JUDGES from the contest plan to share what they’ve learned through the contest judging experience and share with young persons how to become better writers.
The Friends of the Great Falls Library will provide the cash awards for the winners. Miller added, “This is a culmination of all the library community hopes it can create. Great thinkers, great writers, great readers and great storytellers.”