Writing with a passion

Johanna Schmidt performs her poem in front of her peers. (submitted photo)

Frank Sentwali consults with Kate Van Meter and Lauren Bondi about their poems. (submitted photo)

Two Shoreview students honored with writing award

Two Oak Hill Montessori School students were recently honored for their writing skills.

Freddy Keillor and Johanna Schmidt received 2012-2013 Lillian Wright Awards for Creative Writing from COMPAS. COMPAS Arts Education Program published the students’ work in its 34th annual student writing anthology, this year titled “Universal Community.” Keillor won the award for “Best Writing in Grades 6-7” for his poem “A Photo,” while Schmidt won the award for “Best Writing in Grades 8-12” for her poem “Declaration Dysfunction.”

“I was shocked,” Keillor says about winning. “I just felt so lucky to win that award and to be recognized by these people for my poetry.”

Schmidt was unavailable for comment.

COMPAS, which stands for “Community Programs in the Arts,” is a nonprofit organization that operates throughout Minnesota. COMPAS publishes writing from K-12 students who work with COMPAS writers in residence.

Prepping for performance

For more than ten years, Oak Hill Montessori has hosted writer in residence Frank Sentwali, who specializes in spoken word poetry. Sentwali teaches the students during a two-week intensive writing program in January.

Sentwali, who teaches spoken word sessions at a number of schools, says working at Oak Hill is different because the students start writing their poems before he arrives.

“Students will write maybe six or seven or eight poems on their own and they’ll peer edit with each other,” says Megan Mathison Wynia, seventh and eighth grade English teacher at Oak Hill.

By the time Sentwali comes to class, each student has a solid rough draft of a poem.

Sentwali helps students transform their poems into spoken word performance pieces. He guides them through spoken word practices involving rhythm and performance, which includes basic theatre techniques such as eye contact, vocal projection and posture.

The students perform their pieces in front of their family, friends and peers at Oak Hill’s annual spoken word event. This year’s event took place last week.

Stand-out students

Keillor and Schmidt, who wrote their award-winning pieces last January, had the opportunity to perform them on Dec. 14 at a public celebration at the Landmark Center. The celebration honored more than 60 young authors featured in this year’s COMPAS anthology.

Sentwali thinks it’s phenomenal that Keillor and Schmidt won “best writing” awards.

“They were writing them as spoken word pieces, so the fact that they became literary accredited just shows how much thought that they put into them,” Sentwali said.

Sentwali and Mathison Wynia encourage the students to think deeply about their poems and to choose topics they feel are important to share with their community.

“We try to steer the kids toward social justice themes or at least having an opinion through personal experiences or worldly experiences,” Sentwali says.

For Keillor, that experience was photography.

“I tried to incorporate my passion for photography into something that could speak to audiences about problems that our world is going through and issues that we as humans face,” he said about his poem, “A Photo.”

When it came down to it, passion is what set Keillor and Schmidt’s work apart, says Mathison Wynia.

“Both of them were so passionate throughout the whole journey and jumped on a topic that was so important to them,” she said, adding that “it’s always remarkable to see what kinds of things seventh and eighth graders really care about.”

An enduring lesson

This is Keillor’s last year at Oak Hill, but he plans to continue writing.

“I think that writing is an excellent way of taking in and processing the world around you, and by doing that you can produce something that gives to other people,” he says.

Shoreview student Elena Vaughn was also featured in the COMPAS anthology. The other 2012-2013 “best writing” award winners (from the K-2, 3-4, and 5-6 grade groups) come from schools in St. Paul, Chanhassen and Hopkins.


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