Dumbarton students make strong showing in county middle school writing contest

Next week, Baltimore County Public Schools will honor the winners of its Middle School Writing Contest at an awards ceremony at the county library in Towson.

For the sake of convenience, they might want to just have the ceremony at Dumbarton Middle School, home to seven of the 12 students whose work will be recognized at the ceremony.

"I'm definitely proud of all the students," said Kelly Erdmann, principal of Dumbarton Middle School. "I think it speaks a lot to our eighth-grade language arts teachers, that they're able to produce such fabulous writers."

According to a county school system release, 330 poems, 106 short stories and 88 works of fiction were entered into the contest, but the lion's share of honorees came from Dumbarton.

In the nonfiction category, Dumbarton writers took win, place and show.

Eighth-grader Louis Lowenthal, 13, won first prize for his memoir about swimming, which he has been doing since he was 4. The essay spanned from his "first deep-end test to when he won the state championship."

"It was kind of fulfilling," he said. "It sums up everything I've done, and not just for the assignment."

Second place in that category went to Daniel Healey, 13, who wrote his essay about his love of nature, a passion he has had since he was a little kid. Daniel used the essay as an opportunity to reflect on his past experiences and put them all into perspective for the memoir.

Jonah Salehi, 14, drew on a unique personal experience for his own memoir, which took third place for nonfiction.

"Lots of people think it's weird that I do ballet, and they want to know why I did it, so I wrote something to explain why," he said. "At first, I think it was hard because I didn't think there was much to say. Then, I thought back to when I (started), and it got easy."

The memoir assignment was originally to be written from the perspective of a character in a book they read, but teacher Justin DiPrima ultimately changed the assignment to give the students a challenge that seemed to come naturally for eighth-graders.

"I think they're at the age where they're trying to figure out who they are anyway," he said. "That really seems like a motivating factor. They're doing that anyway, I'm just giving them an outlet."

Sonoma Moskowitz, 13, was the school's other first-place winner, taking the prize in the fiction category for her short story, "Hell Doesn't Play by the Rules."

The story, which featured a girl tricked into going to hell instead of heaven and ends with a bit of irony, was described by Eric Adams, who oversees the Dumbarton Writers Club, as "playfully sinister."

Moskowitz was the only student recognized from the school's writers club, with the rest coming from DiPrima's eighth-grade language arts class.

Adams described Moskowitz as a "mature writer" who is willing to see out the writing process and accept critiques for the good of the story. He said one of the advantages middle-school writers have is that they take chances adults might deem too silly.

"Because they commit to it," he said, "it turns out well."

Catonsville Middle School student Jake Knott took second place in the fiction category for his story, "Cupcake Lad," while Franklin Middle School students Lexi Walls and Madii Hoffman were recognized as third place and honorable mention, respectively.

In the poetry category, three Dumbarton students were recognized behind Hoffman, who took first with her poem, "Nostalgia."

All three utilized a poetic technique called synecdoche — a figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole.

Rylee Marie Simmons, 13, claimed second place with "Music to My Ears," a poem about sheet music.

Rylee, a singer, pianist and guitar player, wrote about how familiar her hours of practice each week have made her with the sheets.

Third place went to Santi Ruggeri, 14, whose poem, "My Big Toe," was a "humorous but serious" piece relating himself to his big toe, and the rest of the toes to his friends.

Victor Romeo's "My Glasses," earned an honorable mention in the poetry category. In the poem Victor, 13, uses his glasses to relay the differences, both perceived and genuine, between himself and his peers.

The winners of the contest, which is sponsored and judged by the senior literary arts students at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, will receive their awards at a ceremony at the Towson Library at 6 p.m. on April 17.

NOTE: The print version of this story erred in the spelling of Justin DiPrima's name. It is correct here.

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