Writers from EWHS and elementary school work together

Kim Votry in green shirt with EWHS writers.
Kim Votry in green shirt with EWHS writers.

By Janette Turner

Imagine a world where high school kids help elementary students they’ve never met. Such a project was set up by local writing instructor Kim Votry with Edmonds Woodway High School NaNoWriMo Club members editing books by students from the Home Education Exchange, a home school resource center in the Shoreline School District.

To say the teens are enthusiastic about editing works by their unknown charges is an understatement. “It’s a pleasure to be able to edit such young writers,” said Sylvia Chace, grade 12, who noted the fledgling writers fill their stories with unexpected, magical twists.

“In two pages a story can jump from Africa, China, Europe and Antarctica,” said Liam McDonald, grade 10. One student, Alexa Stephens, grade 9, is currently reading classical literature, such as “Of Mice and Men” and “Romeo and Juliet,” which have the purpose of “making a point.” But for the kid writers, “the point is fun.” Christina Amsden, grade 12, summed it up: “The kids’ work is full of imagination and possibility, and anything can happen.”

But all that play has a serious side. The high school students are becoming better editors and writers of their own work. As Anna McLane, grade 12, said, the mixed school project “gave me the courage to edit my own novels.”

The multi-school writing program

Votry, a board member for EPIC Group Writers, provided background on how the multi-school writing program came together: “At WOTS last year, I found out that EWHS had a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) Club. I contacted the school and asked to be put in touch with Nancy Branom, the club’s advisor. She and I, along with club president Anna McLane, emailed back and forth, and then they invited me to speak to the club about publishing options. I was instantly impressed with their commitment, their interest, and their energy, and we agreed that I would mentor them. I’ve been showing up regularly once a week. Sometimes I bring in articles about writing, and sometimes we just chat about the writing and revision process. Club members offered to help me edit my student novels, so our meetings are often discussions about that process, too.

“I currently work as a writing coach for the Shoreline School District and have led a year-long novel writing class for the past three years. During September and October, we plan our novels, then we write in November, using the NaNoWriMo website and support. From December to May, we revise, edit, design covers, write back cover blurbs and author bios, and then hand it all over to Third Place Press. By mid-June, Vladimir Verano, lead publisher and graphic designer at Third Place Press, presents us with gorgeous, professionally-published books.

“My students are in grades 4-8, and were nervous about high schoolers reading and critiquing their work, but at this point they all want to meet each other. My students and I are planning a field trip to visit the high school in the next few weeks. I love the collaboration of this project, especially that students of different ages are working together, and I appreciate the encouragement and support I have received from Ms. Branom and other EWHS staff.

“Having worked with many of the same elementary kids for two and three years now, I have seen remarkable improvement with each year’s novel. I could hand them a worksheet and ask them to practice putting commas in lines of dialogue, and they could do a thousand of them and still forget to do it in their own work. But when I hand them their own manuscript marked up for correction, they really care about it. They work carefully and pay attention because it’s their story. At the Home Education Exchange, our agreement with the kids is that we’ll treat their work seriously if they do. We help them revise and publish, and in exchange, they work hard to produce manuscripts worthy of publication.  It’s been amazing to see how readily and eagerly they all rise to the challenge. The caliber of work is really quite astounding. I’m so, so proud of them!”

The big meet up

Votry expects to bring the students together in late May, after the high schoolers finish achievement testing and major projects. My Edmonds News will be there because “anything can happen.”

In the meantime, folks are invited to watch Kim Votry’s video of the high school students on YouTube. And to see a listing of forthcoming books by the EWHS students, see here.

  1. Thank you Janette for this great article on Kim Votry’s work with the young students.
    What she is doing with them is so life enriching, by letting them listen to another voice
    as they helpfully and hopefully contribute theirs. Children and young people are so creative and exciting before they have to conform to molds impressed on them. I am so glad to hear this is all happening within the education system. Thank you Kim for your devotion to this effort. They and we will be all the richer for it.

    Ingrid Wolsk

  2. Thank you, Ingrid, for your heart-felt words! In our past conversations, I have always been impressed with your own dedication to the creative process. I appreciate your taking the time to comment!

  3. Learning to communicate effectively is a fundamental skill in both one’s personal and professional lives. Formal education’s very purpose is to prepare one to live a rewarding life. Mastery of a skill that will be important no matter what changes occur fulfills that purpose. These students are discovering what education is really about. It will be a lifetime journey–and an enjoyable one (except when they find themselves struggling to meet a deadline).

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