Thursday, December 1, 2016

HWC Tutor Alum Emma Gallagher's Reflection on the National Storytelling Festival

HWC tutor alum Emma Gallagher had the opportunity to attend and perform a spoken word piece at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, this October. Emma is now a first-year Architecture major and Creative Writing minor at Virginia Tech. 

I was lucky to get the chance to attend the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee from Friday, October 7th to Sunday, October 9th. Jonesborough is a quaint town that belongs on a postcard with the sun setting and a couple walking hand in hand towards their happy ending. The town’s population hovers around five thousand and it is known as Tennessee’s oldest town. The immediate area that the storytelling festival was held--Historic Jonesborough-- wasn’t sullied by a McDonalds or a Subway or even a Starbucks. The arguably biggest building in the area was a United Methodist Church, which seemed to be a bit bigger than the school. A walk along the main road would take you to a few locally owned coffee shops, a bunch of boutiques and a lot of antique shops. You passed a ginormous town hall (quite possibly bigger than the church!) and many shops that sold “I <3 Jonesborough” T-shirts or cookies that showed with a little heart where in Tennessee Jonesborough was. In total, walking through this town I got the feeling that everyone knew everyone and town gossip spread faster than the plague.

When I walked into Jonesborough, the second thing I noticed, after than the absolute quaintness of the town, was the sheer number of people who were packed into the streets, on the steps of the town hall and in the tiny antique shops and candy stores. International Storytelling Center President Kiran Singh Sirah said that by October 2nd over eleven thousand people had registered. That’s more than twice the number of people that live in the entire town! So as I walked down the streets, finding it impossible to not bump into people and be bumped into, I marveled at the number of people who still find the first form of history, the first form of entertainment, the first form of communication, important and enjoyable in this day and age.

The way that the storytelling festival works is that there are sessions--time slots-- throughout the day. There are five tents and a theater and you choose which storyteller you want to hear and you go to the tent that they are in during the session that they are there. At the end of the day, you have gone to six or seven different storytellers. The tents that the sessions are held in are huge, white tents fit for a carnival, and they are packed. Some of the tents where the more popular storytellers perform are so packed that people are standing in the back and sitting on the cool ground where the aisles are supposed to be.

The first session that I went to was to see Antonio Sacre share a piece called “High Five Daddy!” This session turned out to be my favorite session of the weekend! Antonio relayed the story of how he met his wife, how she took him out swing dancing, but he was only used to salsa since he was Cuban, so he was bad at that. Then he took secret dancing lessons for three weeks to impress her. He then merged into a story about how his then girlfriend (future wife) loved camping and so he took what he called “secret camping lessons” and spent a fortune on camping supplies and took her not only camping but backpacking. Of course, many mishaps ensued and laughter filled the audience as we related to his mishaps and swooned over his love for his wife. Then he spoke about having their first kid, first family camping trip when the boy was only two years old. He spoke about the second kid and her first camping trip. He spoke about the many camping trips that followed, some rugged, some luxury, some with just the immediate family, some with the entire second grade class. He spoke about the burritos they had for dinner and, of course, the leaking gas that followed. He spoke about the sweet moments like singing their children to sleep and the catastrophic moments like when the clumsy girl tried walking with the last s’more.

What I enjoyed most about Antonio’s stories was not that he could relay in perfect detail the journey to the top of the mountain where the campsite was located, but that he somehow made me wonder, even as I was sitting, listening to his excited voice swing up and then fall gracefully down as if it was traveling the mountains itself, watching his animated body carrying the invisible two-ton backpack and dance a swing-salsa fusion, I still wondered if he was going to make it to the top of the mountain, and if he did, would it kill him to get back down. The way that Antonio told his stories created surprises in the little moments. He uncovered layers of his life and his family so that you felt joy in each detail he revealed.

Going to the storytelling festival changed my perspective not just on storytelling but on writing and living and, mostly, listening. Listening is such a powerful thing in the modern world.  Today, many people listen just to add or reply, but at the storytelling festival, you listen to hear. The only interruption was the train rumbling by. There was not one-upping or comparing of scars. You hear the words of the storytellers and accept them. You hear the words and feel them. You hear the words and are grateful that you got the opportunity to be there when they poured or streamed or shot or oozed out of the storyteller’s mouth.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"The Herndon Writing Center Does CAPTA 2016: A Recap" by Jessie W.

A harsh wind kicked up the scattered leaves across the empty parking lot. Almost the entire writing center had gathered by door 3, decked out in our Herndon Writing Center shirts, excited for what was about to unravel at George Mason’s Arlington campus. The third year tutors stood laughing in the large circle as the newcomers shuffled their feet, unsure what to expect.

27 HWC tutors, Ms. Hutton, Ms. Brown, and Ms. Sneed, attended CAPTA 2016.

Flash forward to 9:00: CAPTA had a keynote speaker, Dr. Jennifer Wells, a professor at New College in Florida and author of The Successful High School Writing Center: Building the Best Program with Your Students. Dr.Wells had one main message: if you believe that you are capable of achieving your goals, you will be able to. She explained that one’s perception of himself is the ticket to succeeding in the future. Over 500 students, from 48 schools across 10 states, sat shuffling in their seats, excitedly whispering about what presentations they were attending.

One big improvement from last year to this year was that all attendees were able to choose their presentations they attended. This is an improvement from being placed in sessions without any choice.

500 Tutors, Directors, and Administrators listening to Dr. Wells' Keynote
Presenters broke off first, rushing to their designated room to set up. For my first session, I attended Tutor APtitude, a presentation on how to tutor AP essays, lead by tutors from Oakton High School, and its joint presentation on managing stress from AP courses, lead by HWC tutors Sofia Caballero and Jo Luttazi. The contrast of the two presentations was perfect because I could relate to both AP course stress and tutoring these challenging essays. The best part about each presentation was how useful and applicable I found them to be. Seeing peers give presentations like the ones at CAPTA is so inspiring to me.

The next session was on advertising and bringing in more people to the writing center. I loved this presentation because it was really similar to a topic I presented on last year! Everyone in the audience was given a chance to suggest our own marketing strategies,creating a huge collaborative discussion. I love hearing about how other writing centers operate and getting new ideas to test in our own.

Hundreds of peers flocked the steps outdoors in a variety of colorful writing center shirts. Lunch time was full of bonding between other centers and setting up more dates to meet and chat about tutoring. The lunch was delicious and we even had time to do our own mannequin challenge! My partner and I snuck back upstairs a bit early to begin setting up for our own presentation that was to come.

My partner Laura Wycoff and I presented on tutoring ESOL students and how we could make them feel more comfortable in the writing center. Our solution was digital tutoring! After giving our presentation, we had the rewarding experience of being asked to present again on a later date at Northern Virginia Community College. Another woman who viewed our presentation asked if I would share my material with her so she could share it with her colleagues. It was a great opportunity to make connections and get feedback on what we had worked so hard on.
Jessie and Laura after their presentation
The last session I attended was on setting up a writing center. The presentation answered all of my questions on Google Classroom and got me even more excited to test it out in the Herndon Writing Center!

After staying late to get my questions answered, I ran down for the closing ceremony. After a day full of excitement, all 500 students piled back in for congratulations and treats. I scanned the crowd full of tutors and saw the Herndon Writing Center sitting together and sharing new ideas. After a long day of meeting people, I settled back in with my friends as we cheered on Mrs. Hutton and the other CAPTA directors at the podium.

Who had fun at #CAPTA2016?

Friday, November 4, 2016

"Magnifying Glass" by Gunn

My writing is holding up a magnifying glass to the intricacies of the world around us. Writing throughout my life has given me the ability to explore the more analytical side of  my thoughts that are constantly trying to find some deeper meaning of a text. It allows me to breathe life into my thoughts, something that wouldn’t happen if they were just spoken. Writing frees my thoughts from the confines of my brain and puts them out into the open for the world to see.  

The things that make writing fun for me is being able to make people think deeply about something that they only see the surface of. Instead of them snorkeling at sea level, I want them to be able to dive 300 ft under with scuba gear. Snorkeling at sea level is like reading the text without thinking about what the author wants you to see, while diving under the water shows you how much more there is to see. This diving under is the deep examination of a text, in which you can finally understand what the author wants you to see, and more. This analysis happens only with either slow and deliberate reading of a text or the repeated reading of it. There is so much more detail in every piece of text that you read that very few people notice or can see. The ocean that I let the readers of my analysis explore starts at the glowing keyboard in my poorly-lit, always chilly basement room. The environment surrounding me affects my writing process tremendously. Small things like the keyboard I am using being uncomfortable to use throw me off focus, chatter between people has the same effect. Almost every paper, report, journal, short story, or note that I have written has been one of two keyboards for almost 6 years. I never have any kind of music playing in the background while I work, only the sounds of the keys going click and clack, and the sounds of my brain attempting to put my jumbled thoughts into coherent sentences on a screen.  

Sadly one of the things that make writing difficult for me is the premise of writing for a grade. Even this assignment, one which I thought I would enjoy writing, has put me off and caused me to procrastinate it’s completion on the basis of that it will end up as a letter or number in a grade book that I check at minimum 5 times a week. That letter or number will either make me feel good or bad about what I wrote, and then I move on. Depending on what that grade book says, I take two very different courses of action. One involves the possibility of a relatively high grade on this paper, the other involves the possibility of a low score. With a high score on this paper, I see that this boosts my overall grade and I become complacent. I feel satisfied with the work I’ve done and never again think about the contents of this paper. If I receive a low score however, my mind focuses on every possibility I have to soften the blow of this low score through extra work, late work, missing assignments, and so on. These are all distractions from my writing, especially that which is not school assigned writing. All in all, these forced assignments will always take me away from my writing, no matter the outcome or score. This explanation of endeavors in our education system works to describe many tasks if you replace the word “paper” with assignment.
These restrictions on my writing make me feel as though I am not a writer myself. I do feel that I have grown since writing Harry Potter universe short stories, and that I have become more adept at being able to show the reader how I think and feel about certain things. However writing is sadly not one of my main priorities in my day to day life, nor is it something I could easily make a priority without changing the way I live my life. One day, after high school and after college, I hope to be able to find the time to fit writing into my day to day and to be able to express all of my ideas in a way that is enjoyable to many. Only then would I feel that I am a writer. At this point in my life, I cannot bring myself to say so.

"Stress Haikus" by Leonita Cassidy

Work begins to multiply
You will not catch up

Worry comes in waves
Drowning in anxiety
Can’t reach the surface

There are things to do
You race to get it all done
Yet time has run out

It’s overwhelming
So much pressure to do well

Seems impossible

October 2016 Statistics Report

Thursday, October 20, 2016

National Day on Writing Celebration: Haiku and Cake

On Thursday, October 20, 2016, we celebrated the National Day on Writing with our annual Haiku and Cake party. Below are some selections of the haiku we received.

What are you writing?
A haiku. For English? Yes.
Sounds fun. Yeah we get cake too.

Math is glorious.
With food, it's even better!
Math + Cake? Pure joy!
(By Mrs. Margraff)

I play on defense.
Defensive link to be clear.
Football is my life.

Skill and passion in soccer
Makes the player great

Rebellious bolts
Blades of lightning cleave the sky
Cleaving right from wrong

Buffalo Chicken
Wings are very very delicious to eat
They were a good treat.

Chemistry is hard.
Why do they even teach it?
Do you think I"ll pass?

Haikus are awesome
But they don't always make sense

I just came from math
We had to do trig problems
Please give me some cake

Be your Kanye best
Put your skills to Kanyes test
Beat the Kanye rest

Billions of bright lights
Shine against a dark canvase
In the clear night sky

Haiku is starting.
Haiku is nearly finished.
Haiku is complete.

Friday, October 14, 2016

"You Sit Down to Write" by Smurph

You sit down to write
And there is a sloth about your neck.
The words flow like marbles, dropping individually to the paper, dammed back
By the droop of your eyelids
And the tremors in your hands.
The face of the clock is blurring
But you know it isn’t late enough
So you push the heavy creature aside
And you keep writing.

You sit down to write
And there are moths fluttering in your chest
Making a home inside your ribs
Lifting, everything becoming that much lighter
And the words float out of you
Like each is a single gossamer insect
Seeking the light.

You sit down to write
And there’s a dragon clawing at your throat.
You can feel its breath sting your eyes
And the words roar out of your pen
Burning the page
Then extinguished by the tears that quickly follow.
It escapes from you in bursts of heat
And bloody anger
And it flies away
Leaving behind the taste of ash in your throat
And the promise of return.

You sit down to write
And there is something inside you
Deeper than the moths.
If you turn your head quickly enough
You can see feathers
And hear the beat of fragile wings.
This is the most valuable creature
And the only one
That will not fly away.

Treasure it.