Five young writers from Windham Middle School stood out among 800 letters submitted statewide for the annual national reading and writing program Letters About Literature organized by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
Forty-seven letters were selected by the Maine Humanities Council, which operates the program in Maine, for recognition. Five of those letters were written by students in GT/English language arts teacher Kim McBride’s classes.
Letters About Literature invites students to think about a book, story, poem or play that is meaningful to them, and write a letter to the author, living or dead, to talk about the impact of that work on their lives, said McBride.
“We participate every year in my classes and we have had some success in the past but this was definitely a banner year for us,” she said. “We’re very proud of that, and couldn’t be more delighted that our student letters are having such success.”
McBride said that her students are thoughtful readers and writers, and she attributes some of this year’s success to the adoption in the district of a new writing program called Units of Study. “It’s been really helpful in teaching students how to best organize their thoughts and be articulate on paper,” she said.
There is increasing emphasis at WMS on how to write, she added, including how to organize thoughts, express them on paper, and use sufficient details so that the reader understands what is going on in the author’s head and heart. “I think that’s a big part of it. It’s the ability to be articulate and introspective and connect to literature and understand how literature helps us grow,” she said.
The five winning letters are personal, compelling and heartfelt, said McBride. The literature selected and personal connections spanned a wide range of topics. One student used Peter Pan to reflect on personal growth and moving towards adulthood. Another wrote about a novel that helped her address personal anxiety experiences. A third connected literature to the true meaning of family, while the fourth chose a poem about finding your own way in life. The fifth letter spoke of a science fiction novel that helped the student understand that everyone has their own gifts and path in life. “All of the stories were quite personal, and quite heartfelt and quite wonderful,” said McBride.
The letters allowed students to show how reading helps them understand themselves and the world around them in a way they didn’t before, according to McBride. All of the students who participated, not just the winners, felt affirmed by the process, and the understanding that the hard work they do throughout the year pays off. “It shows us how capable our students are, and we should be really proud of all of our students and the hard work that they do every day that so often goes unrecognized,” said McBride.
Of the five students selected for recognition, four are semi-finalists and will move on to the state level, where finalists in three grade levels are selected to be entered into the national competition.
The Windham Middle School students who received recognition for their letters are: Audrey Day, grade 6; Anna Becker, grade 7; Brooke Keenan, grade 7; Estrella Pacanza Rogers, grade 7; and Emma Gallant, grade 8.