Nearly a decade into guiding Power of the Pen writers, Ms. Jennifer Wolf of Dr. Henry Karrer Middle School looks forward to every new season with her writers and her co-coach, Mrs. Melissa Eddington.
The Karrer team had a fabulous 2019-2020 season, taking 3rd place in the 7th grade and 2nd place in the 8th grade at the Circleville district tournament before capturing 2nd place overall at the Otterbein regional. The season was capped off by 8th grader Anna Blasinski’s first place finish in the statewide poetry competition for her wistful reflection on how life changes as we grow up.
Ms. Wolf says that students’ favorite part of Power of the Pen meetings is when writers have the opportunity to share their work and get feedback from other writers. “We all relish the unique talents of our teammates while we get inspired to take new risks in our own writing,” Ms. Wolf says. “Students are looking forward to getting back into the routine of honing their craft while building friendships and camaraderie that bloom throughout the writing season.”
Power of the Pen participants from throughout Ohio say that being a part of a creative writing club has inspired creativity, improved their writing skills, provided a place to belong, and built their confidence! Over the summer, students submitted videos about their experiences. Mike Fejes, Power of the Pen board member and coach from Hudson Middle School, compiled their remarks into a video that can be shared at schools. Watch the video to find out why Power of the Pen means so much to these students!
Power of the Pen alum Alexis Moore develops innovative solutions for sports medicine as a biomedical engineer with Stryker, a global medical technology company that provides products and services for orthopedics, medical and surgical settings, and neurotechnology.
Biomedical engineers design equipment and devices that improve medical care and patients’ health. Much of what you see in a doctor’s office, from the examination table to the stethoscope, was designed by a biomedical engineer. And if you’ve known anyone who has had a knee replacement or an artificial heart valve, these life-changing devices began with a biomedical engineer’s research and design project.
Developing Confidence and Communication Skills
Alexis credits her writing team at Hamilton Middle School for giving her a place to belong and explore what she could accomplish. In fact, Alexis sacrificed the annual class trip in favor of the Power of the Pen state tournament, which was taking place at the same time. “There was no hesitation on which to choose,” Alexis says. “The class trip was practically a rite of passage, but that’s how important Power of the Pen was to us!”
Power of the Pen helped Alexis build the confidence and communication abilities needed for a successful engineering career. “Power of the Pen taught me how to harness my own power to write my own life story. Cheesy, but true!” she says. “I am a stronger person, engineer, and advocate because of the program. The language skills and attention to detail learned throughout the program have stuck with me.”
Thanks to the Kiwanis Club of Dayton for supporting Power of the Pen! Coach Mindy Hoffer and student writer Sage Spirk of Oakwood Junior High spoke on August 18 to the Kiwanis about the impact of Power of the Pen. Sage was invited to read one of her favorite pieces from the season.
At first glance, data analytics might not seem like a career where story writing skills are critical. But for Power of the Pen alum Erin Blackburn-Smith, analytics manager with Tropical Smoothie Café in Atlanta, Georgia, her ability to weave a strong narrative is integral to success in her career.
Data analytics professionals are tasked with spotting trends to guide decisions, and data sometimes reveals surprises that decision-makers might resist. That’s where the ability to tell stories comes in.
“When I was younger, I thought I wanted to turn my love of writing into a career in journalism,” Erin says. “However, as I got older, I found myself very drawn to research and data analytics, and ended up making my career in Marketing Analytics in the restaurant industry …
“A huge part of my job is storytelling. When I am doing analysis, I am using the data to craft a narrative, and then I must communicate the narrative clearly and convincingly. The most effective analytics presentations lead the audience to come to your conclusion on their own, before you reveal what your conclusion is. There is no way I would be able to do that without a strong background in storytelling.”
Erin was a member of the team at Arts Impact Middle School (AIMS) in Columbus City Schools. She credits Power of the Pen with nurturing her love for writing. The extemporaneous nature of Power of the Pen tournaments, with their 40-minute writing rounds, helped Erin overcome a perfectionist streak that was holding her back.
“When I was in competition, I didn't have time to meticulously plan and revise,” she says. “I also couldn't scrap something and give up halfway through if I ran into any obstacles. This was really instrumental for me in order to feel free creatively and to welcome feedback from others - not just in writing, but in any creative or intellectual pursuit.”
Belonging to a Community of Writers
Also crucial in middle school was the sense of community and belonging. “I've always been terrible at sports, so it was great to have an opportunity to actually compete and be on a team,” Erin says. “I made friends with kids that I wouldn't have been friends with otherwise.”
Victoria Kerr participated in Power of the Pen as a student at the former Taft Middle School in Stark County and now coaches at Jackson Memorial Middle School.
Jackson's 8th graders placed first in the 2020 Power of the Pen Eastern Region tournament, and the 7th and 8th grades together placed third overall. Eighth grader Zoe Brewster earned district Best of the Best for a story entitled "Lonely."
Victoria says she loves working with her team, pictured below: "I get so much satisfaction of seeing the progress that my students make from the beginning of the year through the tournament season. It is always fun to see where their creativity leads them."
The 2019 Book of Winners is now available for purchase on the Power of the Pen website.
Featuring Best of the Best winners from the 2018-2019 season, the book showcases more than 100 models of exemplary student writing. With themes exploring relationships, loss, and moments of joy, it is also a compelling read!
Power of the Pen sends one free copy of the 2019 Book of Winners to each team who registers for the 2020-2021 season, beginning September 1, after we receive payment for their registration.
Power of the Pen Best of the Best winners were invited to read aloud their creative writing for YouTube. Students created their own videos and chose their own unique style of presenting their work. Visit Power of the Pen's YouTube channel to hear these award-winning stories in the authors' voices.
Jasmine Warga, an alum of the Power of the Pen team at Wyoming Middle School, received a 2020 Newbery Honor for her third book, Other Words for Home. A novel in verse, Other Words for Home tells the story of a young girl who must move from her home in Syria to Cincinnati, Ohio. In the author's note for the novel, Jasmine says that one of the reasons she wrote this book is to help readers understand that children fleeing from war zones "want the same things all of us do - love, understanding, safety, a chance at happiness."
Jessica P. Wick, who reviewed the book for NPR, highly recommends it as a relatable and vital read for middle grade students: “There are so many reasons to read this novel. It’s a book about kindness, for one; it sings, for another, as any good verse novel should . . . It feels true. It feels like middle school and wanting things the way you do in middle school. It feels like being in the middle of so many things and not quite knowing how to navigate that uncertainty.”
Jasmine is also the author of My Heart and Other Black Holes and Here We Are Now. Her fourth book, The Shape of Thunder, is coming out in spring 2021.
Author Margaret Peterson Haddix, poet George Bilgere, and Power of the Pen alum and television writer Sage Boggs honored Power of the Pen writers for our annual state awards ceremony, held virtually due to the pandemic.
Of the thousands of middle school students who write with Power of the Pen each year, the winners of the state awards have achieved an extraordinary level of excellence. Power of the Pen annually awards State honors to young authors whose writing stands out for its powerful connection with readers.
Read the creative works of these 2020 state winners by clicking the links:
Paige Galperin, Kimpton Middle School, Promising Young Talent Award
Sun-Hee Smith, St. Bernadette School, Humor Award
Annie Johnson, John Sells Middle School, and Marie Kanzinger, Chagrin Falls Middle School, Powerful Pen Award
Poetry Award Winners are:
Anna Blasinski, Dr. Henry Karrer Middle School, First Place
Zoe Stiefel, Shaker Heights Middle School, Second Place
Allison Krzywicki, North Royalton Middle School, Honorable Mention
Audra Lozina, Hudson Middle School, Honorable Mention
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