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Writing Workshop/Summer Camp

Writers at Harriman

Writers at Harriman offers high school students with advanced skills in writing an opportunity to develop their talents in a setting away from distractions. The program makes a special effort to recruit students from small towns all over the state where opportunities for individualized instruction from experienced writers may not be available. In 2017, the ninth year of the camp, we also added refugee students to the mix to give those students a chance to experience the beauty of their new state and share their experiences and culture with students from more traditional backgrounds. We had 36 students who grew up in places such as Pierce, Lava Hot Springs, Somalia, Boise, Tanzania, and Fort Hall.

Four teaching writers are the core of our camp staff. Each has been published, and each has significant teaching experience. Guest artists teach paper making, watercolor, and storytelling. A camp naturalist is on hand to lead nature walks. Three proctors, all former Writers at Harriman students, help the campers navigate their days.

The camp takes place at Harriman State Park of Idaho. The 11,000-acre park is home to moose, trumpeter swans, elk, trophy trout, sandhill cranes, bats, and the occasional grizzly bear.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How can Writers at Harriman influence creative expression?

Writers at Harriman exposes students to new experiences in a setting that stimulates creativity. They are far from the usual distractions of home and school; away from screens and the constant pull to add spontaneous comments to the buzz of digital conversation. They are in a natural setting that inspired John Muir, with people from other parts of the state whose experiences are quite different from their own. They meet city kids and country kids and kids from foreign cultures. They learn the struggle and triumph of their peers.

Through guided prompts from experienced teaching writers, they learn different ways to see and begin to collect writing tools that will serve them well. Writing is the focus, but students learn from the camp naturalist, meet park rangers, and find ways to express themselves through art and storytelling.

Each student has at least one piece publishing in the Writers at Harriman anthology, Henrys Fork Journal, and each reads at least one piece during a public performance on Friday evening.

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

NOTE: The National Core Standards Arts Standards overlooks literary arts, particularly imaginative writing; thus Writers at Harriman uses the Idaho Humanities Goals and Objectives for guidance.

Writers at Harriman does 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 piece to perform at the public reading and/or publish in the anthology. The 2017 Henrys Fork Journal has been submitted.
D. Assumes these students are college bound and challenges them accordingly.


The assessment we most value comes from the students themselves. At the beginning of the camp, each is given a self-evaluation form and encouraged to think about their writing. They are asked to assess their own confidence in their writing, their creativity, and their willingness to share their writing with others. They receive the same self-evaluation the last day of camp. This allows us to get a sense of the progress they have made during the week.

We see a marked increase in self-confidence in comparing opening and closing evaluations. It is rewarding to see students who are reluctant to share their writing with others at the beginning check the box that says “Sharing my writing is the best part.” One evaluation stood out this time when a student checked the box, then circled it, then added three exclamation points the last day on “Others enjoy my writing.”


Although I shadowed Margaret Marti during the 2016 camp, this was my first year as director.

I was pleased that our efforts to include refugee students worked well. I wanted them to feel a part of the camp so we started off the first evening by calling on each student and staff member to tell where their ancestors immigrated from when they came to the United States. Everyone had a story to share, not unlike the stories of the refugees. One teaching writer and one student told how their ancestors had been here since humans first came to North America. I plan to use the same icebreaker again next year.

This was the first year we gave a pre- and post self-evaluation to students. It worked well, so we will continue it with minor modifications for the 2018 camp.

I better understand the mechanics of getting students placed with the instructors and signed up for optional activities now. I’ll do more of that during registration this coming year to avoid a lot of passing around of sign-up sheets.

I felt students were missing a lot about the park, so included a park history session this year. Additionally, we brought on a camp naturalist who can answer questions and lead nature hikes.

We changed the method of publication of Henrys Fork Journal in 2017, making it a print-on-demand publication available on Amazon. Each student got their copy and it was available for purchase by grandparents and friends. This eliminates the need for storage and makes the publication available in the future. Copies were sent to every high school library in the state and will be available at independent bookstores.

I look forward to the 2018 camp, the tenth year of operation.