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Summer writing class helps kids get creative, keep minds active

Alexis Spencer, 8, reads her work aloud as Jasmine Johnson, 12, and Stefan Specian look on during a creative writing class at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster Thursday, July 2.
Alexis Spencer, 8, reads her work aloud as Jasmine Johnson, 12, and Stefan Specian look on during a creative writing class at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster Thursday, July 2. (DAVE MUNCHSTAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

Alexis Spencer, 8, read a tale she had written of a superhero, Echo Woman, to eight other students at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster on Thursday.

"Once, in the city of Washington, D.C., I was walking through the beautiful city at about 10 p.m.," Alexis said to classmates, who listened while munching on doughnuts on their final day of class. "It was nice and peaceful until I heard a noise — I saw something flying in the sky."

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Alexis and her classmates, of elementary and middle school ages, completed a two-week creative writing course taught by McDaniel College rising sophomore Stefan Specian, who volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster throughout the school year.

"It was fun," said Alexis, a student at Cranberry Station Elementary School who enjoys writing. "We got to write pretty much anything we want."

The Boys and Girls Club of America is a national organization that provides services and programs to youth at more than 4,100 clubs throughout the U.S.

"Anyone can join the Boys and Girls Club, and our mission is to help all kids reach their full potential, especially those who need us most," said Erin Bishop, marketing director for the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster. "We strive to provide our club members with academically enriching opportunities so that they can reach their full potential and become leaders in the community."

Specian, 19, a writer and editor for the McDaniel Free Press, the college's student-run newspaper, was able to teach the course with money he received from a grant at McDaniel College, which paid for his housing, materials such as notebooks and pencils, and the doughnuts and Capri Sun his students enjoyed on the final day of class, he said.

"Basically the idea was to have a program where they have the ability to write relatively freely in a way that we weren't judging them on composition, judging them on seriously incorrect grammar and spelling," Specian said. "It was kind of a break from the standardized testing in a school, where everything is in a five-paragraph essay."

Specian, who volunteers at the center throughout the academic year, said he instead wanted to see students develop good ideas and content.

"I wanted to see them use their imagination in that way," he said.

He got the idea from a program he previously volunteered for in New Hampshire called A Slice of Bread Loaf, offered at the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, he said.

Students wrote about two to three writing assignments each day, ranging from an "I Am" poem to a story about a superhero to describing their dream homes.

In the "I Am" poem, students wrote a series of sentences that began with "I am," such as "I am from" and students are asked to complete the sentence, Specian said.

"Afterward, I had them break off into groups and while one person would be reading, others would have to act out what they were saying non verbally," Specian said.

Specian said he wanted to offer an activity for kids that allows them to continue their education throughout the summer.

"As much as you can see they're doing a lot of fun activities around here, there isn't much in the way of trying to keep them focused on education during the summer … This is one that keeps them involved and keeps them thinking," Specian said.

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Narda Espinoza, 13, who will be an eighth-grader next year at New Windsor Middle School, said she enrolled in the class because she enjoys writing but also to keep her mind active throughout the summer.

"When I go back to school I still want to be smart and not lose anything," Narda said.

Dillon Hereth, 11, a rising sixth-grader at West Middle School, said that when he returned to school a few summers ago, he had a hard time remembering what he had learned the previous school year, leading him to decide to sign up for Specian's class.

"I like that Stefan has fun projects," Dillon said, adding that he plans to sign up for the course again next summer if it is offered.

"They should do this a lot more — more people should volunteer to do this," Dillon said. "It's very good to keep your mind going."

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