Over the long WinterFest Weekend word began trickling in from near and far that our students were receiving an unprecedented level of recognition for their writing from the New Hampshire State Art and Writing Awards. Each year the state receives hundreds of submissions from both independent and public schools around the state and each year they give five top "American Voices" awards to students from the state. Last year we were blown away when two of our students won statewide American Voices Awards, and we just learned that Maggie Ferguson and Will Arment won two more this year! Our little Dublin and our wonderful students and teachers have won 40% of the top writing awards in the state over the last two years! And these essays are read "blindly" by a panel of judges. Wow! We will soon have an article on all the awards our students won, but for now I am just so proud of all the students who had the courage to submit their work.
When I asked English teacher Nicole Sintetos what the secret of their writing success was she pointed out that they work hard to bring out the authentic voices of their students. Students seem to do their best writing when they gain the confidence to share what is deep inside of them. We have made writing a focus, in fact an initiative, within our community. We believe that in an increasingly mechanized world the power to communicate an idea or a story will take on greater meaning in our lives. Computers may replace so many of the things we have been doing, but they cannot truly replace the human ability to communicate, inspire, reassure, explain, love in the way we can through writing and reading.
When I asked English Department Chair Rachael Jennings to explain our students' success she commented that, "Scholastic saw not just authentic voices, passionate renderings of life and experience and memory, and subjects that these writers truly care about—the readers at Scholastic saw great writing. They saw people who can admire, replicate, spin, and structure a beautiful sentence; they saw people who care about writing structure on an intimate level, a level that cares about sound and syllables and syntax. I would also say that, at Dublin, students have benefitted from writing in many genres, for many audiences, and under the tutelage of teachers who truly care about the craft of writing."
We spend a significant amount of time in our professional development sessions focused on faculty writing. We have a writer in residence and a writing cabin to inspire students and faculty alike. Our faculty get together to "workshop" writing ideas, and some have even published their work. Our students write across the curriculum and spend significant time discussing writing in their English classes. As I reflected more over the weekend I realized that we begin every day of the year with stories in Morning Meeting. While many schools have a weekly assembly, at Dublin we start each day with a thirty minute community gathering. Every senior is required to give a presentation in a Morning Meeting and most of them tell stories about themselves growing up. These are powerful moments and I believe they happen as a result of the fact that they feel safe speaking in front of their peers and teachers. They model courage and vulnerability for the younger students, who witness hundreds of stories during their time at Dublin. You can see their heads spinning as they sit their listening and thinking about how they will tell their own stories.
Having told many stories of my own in Morning Meeting I know that our audience demands authenticity. They would see right through me if I tried to tell them something that did not come from my heart. I feel fortunate to work with a community of adults that is so dedicated to bringing out the authentic voices of our students.