GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Local renowned poet Wendy Videlock's eyes were moist when the room full of third graders stood up and together recited Videlock's poem, "Hawk." It was a surprise for Videlock who was attending the Writers in the Schools celebration Jan. 25 at Mesa View Elementary School where students, parents, teachers and writers-in-residence had gathered to hear the students' published works.
Colorado's Writers in the Schools (WITS) is a residency program founded by Colorado Humanities and Center for the Book, where professional poets, playwrights and fiction writers teach writing workshops in the schools.
The multi-week program culminates with a published anthology and public reading of student work. That's what was taking place Friday at Mesa View, when writer-in-residence Patrick Metoyer asked his students to recite the poem "Hawk" they'd memorized weeks earlier.
In 2011, Colorado Humanities and Center for the Book began partnering with the Grand Junction-based Western Colorado Writers Forum to bring the Writers in the Schools program to the Western Slope for the first time. The program started in Denver about four years ago.
Local writers Jill Burkey and Sandy Dorr, director of Western Colorado Writers Forum, attended the Colorado Humanities-WITS training in 2011, and became writers-in-residence that year at Pomona and Scenic elementary schools.
The program was held at three Western Slope schools in fall 2012 - Mesa View and Tope Elementary in Grand Junction and Bea Underwood Elementary in Parachute. Celebrations of the students' work were held at each of the schools this week and last.
Burkey and Patrick Metoyer were the writers-in-residence this past fall.
Eight-year old Ian Prichard who said he enjoys writing, described his work to a visitor before reading the actual poem to an appreciative crowd at the Mesa View celebration.
"I wanted to write something about Thanksgiving," Ian said. "I remember the rolls were so good, butter was dripping down all over me and I had to lick it off. It was bouncing around in my stomach."
The poem was a hit!
Burkey has taught the WITS program at each of the Grand Junction schools.
"Most kids get really excited about it - it's something different," Burkey said. "We try and make it fun, get them inspired, interested in writing. We help them find their voice."
Metoyer said he typically started by introducing a poem that the students would recite, then talk about. The students wrote a poem together, followed by 5-20 minutes of individual writing time. The last 15 minutes were spent sharing a favorite line, or word from the poem, he said.
"They chose what they wanted in the anthology," Metoyer said. "I helped a little. The students did most of the revision, editing."
The anthology published at the culmination of the program includes one piece of writing from each of the students.
"Seeing their work in printed anthologies that look like other books on the shelf helps students realize that great writing is created by people very much like themselves," according to Colorado Humanities and Center for the Book.
Writers in the Schools is funded primarily by the National Endowment for the Arts, Colorado Creative Industries and National Endowment for the Humanities. Participating schools also contribute, said program coordinator Tim Fernandez.
Since WITS started in Denver about four years ago, the program has expanded to Pueblo, Greeley, the eastern plains, and now the Western Slope. The program is available for grades K through 12, and available on a first-come, first-serve basis.