Authors offer writing tips to Two Rivers High English students

Oct 2 2011 - 11:39pm

Images

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner 
Wendy Toliver talks recently to Cassie Cox’s English class at Two Rivers High School in Ogden about three of her published books.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner 
Stormi Chapman works on a writing exercise given by visiting author Sydney Salter in Cassie Cox’s English class at Two Rivers High School in Ogden recently.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner 
Visiting authors Sydney Salter (right) and Wendy Toliver pass out photo clippings as inspiration for story ideas.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner 
Wendy Toliver talks recently to Cassie Cox’s English class at Two Rivers High School in Ogden about three of her published books.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner 
Stormi Chapman works on a writing exercise given by visiting author Sydney Salter in Cassie Cox’s English class at Two Rivers High School in Ogden recently.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner 
Visiting authors Sydney Salter (right) and Wendy Toliver pass out photo clippings as inspiration for story ideas.

OGDEN -- Dylan Moore could have graduated early from Two Rivers High School this summer, but when he heard what his English teacher had in store for him this fall, he decided staying in high school wasn't such a bad idea.

Moore, along with about 20 other students, will spend the next 12 Tuesdays getting hands-on writing advice from two published authors living in Utah.

Authors Wendy Toliver and Sydney Salter will teach students in one of Cassie Cox's English classes how to craft a story, develop characters and put together a plot.

Then the authors will go through the steps of getting work published, with the idea that, by the end of 12 weeks, all of the students will have some kind of writing published.

Cox came up with the idea last spring after she hosted two very successful author nights at which her students earned the chance to spend an evening and dinner with published Utah authors at local restaurants.

After the last evening last spring, she spoke with Toliver and Salter about the idea of their teaching students about writing and getting published.

"We all loved the idea, so I went to work to get some grants," Cox said.

She obtained a grant from the Utah Education Association's Children At Risk Foundation that would pay the salary for the authors, buy special writing books for the students and cover the cost of printing a literary school magazine -- the first of its kind for an alternative high school like Two Rivers.

When Cox told the students about the idea, the response was huge.

"My students have been working so hard to get into this class," Cox said with emotion.

"I handpicked these students who are avid readers. These kids have stories," she said with a big smile.

Toliver was very excited to teach the students Tuesday.

"I'm just constantly goose-bumpy thinking about this," she said right before the class started.

She felt she had no other option but to jump into the project, not only because of Cox and her "heartwarming" way with the students, but because of the students themselves.

"This is the highlight of my career. I can't wait, I am so excited and honored," Toliver said.

She said she had never met a teacher who goes so far above and beyond for her students and it was inspiring to her, making her want to get involved.

The students are thrilled also.

"I felt like a smart kid to have a teacher call my mom and want me to be in a class," said student Shailee Bettis.

Students in the class agree that Cox has made them see not only literature, but also education in a whole new light.

"It's awesome to have a teacher care so much," said student Seth Baty.

He attended one of the author's nights last spring and has been looking forward to his 12-week course because of that experience.

"I mean, wow, they actually want to teach us. It's amazing just to meet them, and now we get to do more than that," Baty said of taking the course from the authors.

Most of the students aspire to be published writers someday.

"I think it's sick to have the privilege of insight of published authors' words," Moore said, using slang for "cool."

He said he feels he can gain a lot by staying in high school one more term to obtain that knowledge.

Students were already putting pen to paper Tuesday morning as the authors challenged them to keep a daily writing journal and to start somewhere.

Both authors taught some basic writing exercises and reminded the students to not get discouraged.

The class was quiet as the students hung on each word spoken by the authors -- but they also laughed at some of their early writing experiences. The quietest moments came as students wrote a few thoughts about where they wanted to go with the class.

Cox feels it is important to give her students every opportunity she can.

Many schools have extra parental involvement from parent-teacher groups or funding for extracurricular things, such as author visits, that alternative schools don't have, so she said she takes on the challenge of making those experiences happen for her students.

"It's all about finding their potential, and so many times these students get overlooked, but they have so much to offer," she said, gesturing toward her class.

The students will submit some of their work from the course to a state contest in February.

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