Reading, writing, and arithmetic — the basics of an education, right?
But for some youngsters, writing is the hardest to conquer. That's why McCallie School freshman English teacher Erin Tocknell started the Creative Writing Outreach Program in the spring of 2012, a volunteer-led effort that pairs McCallie students with fourth- and fifth-graders from Orchard Knob Elementary and Calvin Donaldson Elementary schools.
The McCallie students meet with the youngsters every Saturday throughout the school year, teaching them to improve their writing and speaking skills. Tocknell says the McCallie students plan and execute every detail of the program.
The students' stories, along with some photographs they took, will be featured in a published journal, "Tales from Donaldson and Orchard," to be unveiled at a private reception on May 14 at McCallie School. Among those in attendance will be families of the students, representatives of area businesses and teachers.
"The students will read selected works, and the event will act as a launch party for the collaborative journal," says McCallie senior Dan Meagher, the program's president.
Imani Rowe, 10, a fifth-grader at Orchard Knob, says she enjoys spending her Saturday mornings with the McCallie students.
"When I first started, I used to put my face behind my paper," she says. "I was reading slow, and I was quiet. When I go to the writing academy now, I put my paper down, and I'm not shy."
Imani says she also enjoys activities that teach them to speak loudly and clearly.
"When we're in the gym, sometimes they'll tell us to scream out our name, and we do different activities that involve our voice," she says.
Meagher says the program has been equally fulfilling for the older students/teachers.
"The idea of helping these kids was really appealing to me," Meagher says. "They're little kids and, though they might have had a little trouble getting into it at first, the fact that they get up every Saturday morning and spend four hours with us is amazing."
McCallie senior Sam Devaney says he can identify with the youngsters and their writing issues.
"It's fun to see the elements that make a story for them are the same elements as I have writing a story," Devaney says. "In English class, I would make an A on content and a C on grammar. A lot of these kids always have good content but not the correct grammar. I can relate to that."
McCallie senior Shawn Paik is helping the students learn the basics of photography.
"I took eight point-and-shoot cameras to the class and talked to the kids about taking photos," says the amateur photographer. "Dan told me the whole point of the writing class was to focus on self-expression. Photography is part of that, too."
Orchard Knob fourth-grader Amari Culotta, 9, says the McCallie students have taught her how to express herself.
"They help with reading, and you get to write about lots of things like about how you feel, what happens in your life and your imagination," she says. "They help us speak louder and make us not feel like we're left out. We can speak loud and tell how we feel."
She and Imani are excited about the debut of the journal.
"A lot of people will see our writing and know how we express our feelings," Amari says.
"There will be strangers reading it, and it makes me proud of my work," Imani says.
Proceeds from fundraisers helped pay for the program's materials and publication of the journal.
"Over the past couple months, we put a lot of effort into fundraising," Meagher says, noting that the goal was $2,600 and they raised $3,000.
"We surpassed our goal, and that's due to the generosity of local businesses in Chattanooga."
The journals will be professionally produced by Starkey Printing.
"From the start, I wanted this to be a high-level production," Meagher says. "I want these kids to be proud of what they've done."
Meagher also praises writing coach Kim Honeycutt of Calvin Donaldson, and Jashari White of Orchard Knob for their dedication to the program.
White, the family partnership specialist at Orchard Knob, says the relationship with the community, the schools and McCallie has been amazing.
"The partnership has afforded two worlds to come together that would not happen ordinarily. Without the assistance of the students at McCallie, some of our students, such as Imani, would not have the confidence that they currently have to express themselves through speaking and writing.
"I couldn't be more proud of our students," White says, "and I expect great things out of all of them."
Meagher is pleased that younger McCallie students plan to keep the program active.
"When you see the results, you know it's worth the effort," he says. "When you look at their first stories and their last, you can see the elements we helped teach. It's very rewarding. Some of the students identify themselves as writers, which is great."
No one is more proud of the students than Tocknell.
"I'm an emotional person anyway. But there are times that I'll get choked up just watching them," she says.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...