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Education Initiatives

Writers @ Harriman / Friends of Harriman State Park

Writers @ Harriman (W@H) is a stimulating and safe week-long residential environment for high school students to explore their interests in imaginative writing. W@H addresses the need for motivated young writers to try new genres, to work with peers, and to be guided by professional writers and artists in Idaho’s finest outdoor classroom. Optional activities include watercolor, handmade books, and storytelling workshops, swimming, hiking and horseback riding. Twenty-four students from nineteen towns (and even more schools) met August 2-8, 2015, our seventh year, at Harriman State Park. “My eyes were opened to so many different styles, new forms and direction for my writing,” reports one student. “I am expressing emotions that I am only able to do by writing them down. Releasing negativity and good ideas makes me feel in control,” says another. By week’s end, each student produces at least one piece to read at the public reading on Friday evening and—it might be a different selection—to publish in their anthology, Henry’s Fork Journal.

Writers @ Harriman values spirited inquiry in matters of interest to the students and encourages passionate exchanges of information among both the students and teachers. Our teaching writers draw from the best of literature to establish a stage for student work. The environment is focused on imagination and nature. Both are integral to student growth and creativity, rudiments of this program.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

W@H uses the Idaho English Language Standards Goals and Objectives. This program des the following:
A. Maximizes opportunities for students to focus on imaginative writing in a community with other writers, peers and professionals. Repeatedly, students tell us they didn’t realize they had peers whose anxieties about their writing are the same.
B. Utilizes the natural setting of Harriman State Park to provide a relaxed, yet focused, atmosphere for camp activities, encouraging students to observe and experience new outdoor activities and Idaho’s natural resources and wildlife. Surprisingly, many Idaho high school students are strangers to the outdoors, but fall in love with their surroundings at Harriman State Park.
C. Supports each student completing at least one finished to perform at the public reading and/or publish in the anthology. The 2015 Henry’s Fork Journal has been submitted.
D. Assumes these students will be going to college and challenges them accordingly.

Critical thinking permeates all our activities. W@H students have opportunities to read, reflect, analyze, and interpret a spectrum of genres and writing styles as well as experience painting, drawing, and storytelling. They leave W@H with a good foundation for connecting between art forms and with skills for a lifetime of problem solving.

Impact

With every writing exercise, the teaching writer invites reflective discussion and peer review, but these anecdotal responses reflect W@H’s impact. Most students seem to view camp as a place to meet others of their “own,” for spirited inquiry into art forms. Many reported a significant change in their relationship to writing as a craft, becoming more assured of their voice and experienced trying new genres. Students’ responses confirm that W@H does indeed provide a valuable, seminal experience. This is a favorite: My writing makes me feel “pretty freaking awesome.” The Ammon sophomore attended two years ago, hardly seemed interested in any facet of camp, and then as a senior, applied again. Gabe summarized his week in saying, “I’ve felt happier.” In asking for a scholarship, Sami from Boise wrote: “I’m just your typical nerd—there is a reason stereotypes exist. . . .” At the end of her week, she said, “I met some awesome writers! Wrote some tight pieces.” Amber, who is homeschooled and from Nez Perce, said that if she had not come to W@H, “I would not know how to pace my novel that I am writing. It has given me encouragement.” She adds that she now has “confidence in my artistic abilities concerning watercolors, colored pencils, and of course writing.”

Reflection

At W@H 2015 we varied the morning schedule which meant that students worked with each of our teaching writers for an extended period, but has less time with their primary teacher. The evaluations from teachers, staff and students were evenly divided: the variety and differing points of view were an asset, but there was not the sustained, concentrated time together. In 2016, the director is proposing that the afternoon sessions move from two two-day topics to four one-day classes. The teaching writers will decide but this change provides for four different points of view by week’s end.

Marketing, although extensive, fell short last year, for reasons we do not understand. We aim to have about forty students, but had just twenty-four. On their applications, students tell us how they learned about W@H and their responses are almost as varied as they are. We used social media, public radio, new releases to newspapers statewide, some 450 posters to schools and coffee shops. We also sought the help of Two Birds, a groups of Boise-area high school apprentices who are studying marketing. Their proposals for branding and market reach are being incorporated for W@H 2016.

The first evening, we have some ice-breaker activities which push students to mingle and divide themselves into small, fluid groups. A boy from Boise, conspicuously uncomfortable, when asked what his favorite genre is to read, answered, “Masterpieces.” He got a big laugh. Throughout the week, masterpieces became the students’ byword, and this student relaxed and enjoyed the attention. The last day, our question on the whiteboard was, “In five years, what kind of writing will you be doing?” His answer was, yes, masterpieces.

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