The desire to have students express themselves through writing sparked the idea for a junior writers club. But it was a lack of creative writing opportunities in public school curriculum that actually brought it to Johnson High School.
The Rev. Evelyn Johnson, a member of the Northeast Georgia Writers group, had a dream to bring creative writing to young people in the area so they could have their voices heard, just like hers was through the organization. That’s a reality now, as Johnson High has had its first few meetings of its new junior writers club.
“Writing is the unique story that all of us have,” said Johnson, pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. “I believe that young people — once they get into the rhythm of knowing that they have a place in society and things to do — writing might be the end road that leads them to greater things in life, whether that’s becoming authors, playwrights and so forth and so on.”
That’s why she brought up the idea for the writers club at a high school.
After sitting down with the principal at Johnson, she said she realized it was an “amenable” task. She saw talent in the students there and felt they would benefit from a writers club of their own. Now, the 10 students who have joined meet at least once a month for the club.
Rebecca Yoder stepped up as the sponsor for the club. She’s an Advanced Placement English and honors American literature teacher at Johnson and has felt the same way about creative writing for quite some time.
“Generally speaking, once you get to high school, it’s difficult to find time to work on your own writing during class time because most teachers are teaching how to write argumentative writing, informational writing or research projects,” Yoder said. “And while we try to make those as authentic as possible, there’s only so much you can do to make assigned-type writings authentic.”
Through the new club, students are given the freedom to write whatever they want. Yoder said students have shown an interest in a lot of different writing styles: dystopian, travel, poetry, music, comics and graphic novels.
And they’re completely in control of the club. Yoder said it’s student-led, and they get to bounce ideas off of each other during every meeting. If they’re working on a novel but suddenly get an idea for a short story, they can start working on that short story and come back to the novel later if they want to “because that’s how real writing works.”
“It gives them something that’s more authentic to them and gives them something they’re passionate about,” Yoder said. “They might have an interest in the assignments we do, but it’s a little different when they are driving the medium and they’re driving their topic.”
The topic most interesting to junior Victoria Clendenning is travel writing. She feels the same as Johnson and Yoder when it comes to the opportunities she and her classmates have while in school.
“There’s nowhere for students to talk about their writing, or gain feedback from it, or to really explore their interest,” said Clendenning, who founded the school’s literary magazine, Excalibur, last year. “So, I joined because I’m a creative writer myself, and I believe that I want to search out a career in creative writing or academic writing.”
Many students in the club feel the same way. Clendenning said that’s one of the added perks of it: the members don’t only get to hear feedback from each other while polishing their own writing style, they get to hear from authors and publishers who give them professional feedback and advice. They’ve even been talking about a mentorship program.
And this isn’t the last club the reverend has in store. She’s hoping the success of the club at the high school will urge other schools around the county and the entire Northeast Georgia region to join, giving students a better opportunity to express themselves.
“This is the design that we’re hopeful other schools will model after, based off the enthusiasm of these students,” Johnson said. “There's a richness of talent and expertise that needs to come from them. And if that’s allowed to be exposed and used, then others will definitely want to copy them or use this model.”