As Melissa Stickney watched her daughter’s love for reading and writing blossom during the pandemic, she had an idea: Why not ask the school if she, as a parent, could form and coach its first-ever Power of the Pen team? The school’s answer was a resounding “Yes.”
Though not a teacher at Rocky River, Melissa worked with the district to secure the technology to connect online with writers and recruit interested students for the team. Meetings began in fall 2020.
A Place to Connect
Melissa’s first online meeting with the team started with an object lesson. Everyone picked an object and wrote for fifteen minutes. Writers described the object in detail using all five senses and explained its significance.
“One wrote about a rock. Another, a pen. Another, her cell phone,” Melissa says. “And yet all these pieces had something in common. They were all about connection. Pandemic isolation highlighted that storytelling was essential.”
Team members bonded over their love of writing, encouraging and inspiring one another. “On their own, the writers formed a texting group for support and laughter,” Melissa says.
Dedicated Time to Develop Writing Skills
Melissa used the resources provided by Power of the Pen to plan learning activities for meetings. These included the Book of Winners, which provides models of exemplary 7th and 8th grade writing, and the coaches’ materials on the website. She also pulled ideas from creative writing books and online resources.
Weekly meetings settled into a pattern. Melissa opened each week with a minilesson on a specific aspect of writing, supported with examples from student writing and popular YA books. Students then practiced a 40-minute response to a Power of the Pen prompt, and a few writers read their piece aloud.
“It was heart-warming to read the positive feedback being typed into the sidebar,” Melissa says. “I provided written feedback to all writers each week and used the subsequent lessons to critique indirectly.” The final 15 minutes of each meeting was social time, with lively conversations about favorite books or writing topics.
The Rocky River Middle School team was highly successful, placing second in the 8th grade in the Columbia Middle School District Tournament and third overall in the Baldwin Wallace Regional Tournament. Five Rocky River writers qualified for the state tournament. At the end of the season, students voted on individual recognition, with each writer receiving a unique award reflecting their own area of storytelling strength.
Melissa cherished the opportunity to be a part of the students’ growth as writers. The topics they wrote about evolved as they became more confident in their own voices. “I was privileged to witness the remarkable growth in each writer’s narrative voice first-hand,” she says. “Some of my writers started with fan fiction and fantasy stories, moved to fiction about teens vaguely similar to themselves and ended the season writing vulnerable, authentic personal narratives.”
In addition, Melissa discovered that she delighted in unleashing middle school students’ creativity. “As a parent coach, I rejoiced in spending time with a bunch of compassionate, funny, and smart human beings,” Melissa says. “If you step up to coach a team, prepare to be wowed, transformed and inspired.”
Power of the Pen is returning to in-person tournaments for 2021-2022. Parents are encouraged to work with schools to form Power of the Pen teams, following all school rules and guidelines to ensure student safety. If you are interested, Power of the Pen can connect you with current coaches to learn more about what’s involved in coaching a team. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.