Aspiring Young Authors Practice Their Craft at PNW BOCES Colloquium

May 20, 2019

“The one time I held him, I could feel the velvety soles of his clean-licked feet. I could hear his rhythmic purring or breathing. He smelled, quite literally, fishy. Most of all, he smelled happy.”

Linnea Shah-Gustafsson, a fifth-grader at Putnam Valley Middle School, wrote that passage as part of a workshop at the Young Authors Colloquium for middle school students at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES Monday. The exercise was part of a workshop with author, Elly Swartz, on finding your authentic voice.
Students from 10 school districts across the region attended the all-day colloquium, which featured a keynote address by Swartz, the author of three young adult novels. Swartz stressed that people have strengths and weaknesses and urged the students to not only write “double-sided characters” but to remember that fact when dealing with others in their own lives.

“Your character needs to be double-sided,” Swartz said. “Nobody is just one thing. You need to be able to develop a character that is nuanced.”

In addition to Swartz’ workshop on finding your authentic voice, there were sessions on writing dialogue, using your senses, building an argument, writing memoirs, crafting charismatic characters, fiction in a flash, the hero’s journey and the power of poetry.

In a session on dialogue, Danielle Pece, a seventh grade English teacher at Haldane Middle School, used clips from the movie, The Hunger Games, to help students see how they can animate their dialogue by adding descriptive words to show how the character is feeling, what the setting looks like and more.

Pece praised BOCES for hosting the new colloquium for middle school-age writers. “For writers to have something special that they can look forward to, that validates them and helps them refine their skills is really important,” Pece said. “Writing is a very private pursuit. To realize that there is a community of writers and have the opportunity to gather and share ideas is so valuable.”

BOCES has been hosting Young Authors events for high school students for 32 years. However, this is the first year that a program was held for middle school students.
Isabelle McLoughlin and Katherine Lyons, both sixth-graders at Pierre Van Cortlandt Middle School in the Croton-Harmon School District, were thrilled to have participated. “I liked the last activity where we used our senses to paint a scene,” said Katherine. “I felt I could use that in my creative writing when I go back home.”

Isabelle said, “I really enjoy writing and I learned how to make my writing better today.”

Swartz is the author of Finding Perfect, a book about 12-year-old Molly, friendship, family and OCD, Smart Cookie, a book about a spunky boy named Frankie, and the soon-to-be-released Give and Take about Maggie who has a hard time letting go.

In addition to Swartz and Pece, presenters included: Kim McCollum, a sixth grade English teacher from Haldane Middle School; Michele Terragnoli, a seventh grade teacher at Lakeland Copper Beach and Jeanne-Marie Fleming an ELA teacher also at Copper Beach; Theresa Wilkowski, director of curriculum for ELA in the Lakeland Central School District; Maeve Townsend, an Ardsley Middle School teacher; Andrew Weiss and Samantha Kearns, both eighth grade teachers at Eastchester Middle School; Michele Manicchio and Beth Coccodrilli, seventh grade teachers at Mildred E. Strang Middle School in Yorktown; Sally Simon, a sixth grade teacher at Blue Mountain Middle School in Hendrick Hudson; Katey Ernau, Dawn Giodano and Kira Herbert, all teachers at Pierre Van Cortlandt Middle School in Croton-Harmon; and Cayne Letizia, a seventh and eighth grade teacher at Valhalla School District.