On Thursday I had the most extraordinary experience. I spoke to about 400 students at Saginaw Swan Valley High School in an assembly, and then had about 50 attendees in a writing workshop on “point of view.” The fact that I survived with my pride intact might be the first clue that the school is something outside the ordinary, but there is so much more.
First of all, this school has a competitive writing team. No fooling.
But before I get to that, the assembly. I talked about following your dreams—to identify your passion, figure out a way to embrace that passion, and make it a key part of your life. So many people (like me) settle for trying to figure out how to make a living rather than making a life. After softening the audience up with a very inspirational video, I told them my story and gave them my advice for how they can make their lives what they want them to be. You could have heard a pin drop. The feedback I got afterwards is that the students took my story to heart.
My adult life is a pretty good cautionary tale. I drifted along in the current of life for thirty years, being miserable in the business world, while thinking I was a writer. I came very close to never finding out if I could really write or if it was just something that I was better at than most of the kids I went to school with. Through most of my life I had no motivation other than getting through the day. Finally I took charge of my life, took a big chance, and got what I’d wanted since I was a kid—I found out I was a writer, and better than that, an author.
This school treated me like a rock star! At Swan Valley (unlike most everywhere else), being an author is a big deal. The kids wanted to have their pictures taken with me. They fought over getting to escort me. And, best of all (and for the second time in the last two years), I had a high school student tell me I had changed her life. It doesn’t get much better than that.
On to what is different about their school, starting with the administration. I could not have been more impressed with Mat McRae, the principal, or Kay Wejrowski, the Library Media Specialist. They are passionate about literacy and writing, and it really shows. They run a variety of literacy programs, and, based on what I saw, the reading/writing culture must run all the way down to kindergarten.
In 2010 Swan Valley won a Citation of Excellence from the Library of Michigan. Last year, they were one of six winners nationally of the Follett Literacy Challenge. And, as I said, they have a competitive writing team.
Outside the context of our writing-challenged society, I would say that competing in writing is sort of missing the point. If we’re competing against anyone as writers, it should be against ourselves in our journey to become better at what we do. HOWEVER, inside the context, I think it’s an amazing idea. Schools need to find extraordinary ideas to help students embrace writing. It’s a big deal at Swan Valley that their writing team won last year’s conference championship in writing.
Writing … is a big deal. Who knew?