Berkshire County middle school writers gather around the virtual table on Wednesdays

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A writers' group usually starts with a good-sized table at the center of it, around which warm bodies and creative minds can gather.

But in the times of social distancing, sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

Over the past couple of weeks, a group of thoughtful middle school students took to their home desktops and kitchen tables, comfy chairs and bedroom floors to turn on their digital cameras and tune into one another through a virtual youth writing group.

The "Writing Wednesdays" workshop series is a complimentary collaborative offering for students in grades six through nine, presented by Richmond Consolidated School English language arts educator Rachel Kanz and Berkshire author and education specialist Jana Laiz.

The hourlong weekly program will continue at 4 p.m. Wednesday through the month of May. Space is limited, but students seeking to join can email Kanz at rkanz@richmondconsolidated.org.

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Kanz described the virtual youth group as "an act of optimistic community building" hosted by them "in an effort to give our kiddos the writing community they are missing."

"We are a community of writers who care for each other," Laiz told the students.

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The first session was held on April 22, Earth Day, and included 11 students representing Berkshire Country Day, Berkshire Waldorf, Colegrove Park Elementary, Monument Valley Regional, Pine Cobble and Richmond Consolidated schools.

To break the ice, each student took turns sharing an "outrageous truth" about themselves. Responses ranged from one student saying, "I'm pretty sure my bedroom is haunted" to another sharing the fact that as a younger child, she was so afraid of bees, she never wore a flower print dress outside. To help keep the creative flow going from there, Laiz read to the group Emily Dickinson's poem, "This is my letter to the world." She then invited the middle school writers to write their own original letter to the planet, in honor of Earth Day.

The screens went silent as the students and adult leaders took a five minutes to scribble, some on pencil and paper, others typing into an online document. The results, Laiz later told participants after some of the young writers read their works aloud, "are giving me chills."

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"Dear World, Compared to you and your history, we are tiny, minuscule. We are stars in your sky. We aren't even stars, we are stitches in the patterns of your quilt. We are threads in those stitches ..." Madeleine Rocheleau-Holmes wrote.

During the April 29, workshop, the students did sensory writing around the theme of spending so much time at home, then choose an inanimate object to write about from the first-person point of view.

Ellie Dow, also an aspiring young filmmaker, wrote this about a kitchen knife: "Flesh. It curves around my handle, sliding me out of the wooden house perched on top of the cold counter. The house that holds me. No, I plead in my head. Don't choose me. But the hand grasping my cold plastic has already chosen. A pile of beans, this is what I must destroy this time. If only I could squirm. Or scream. Tell the ignorant being to whom I am enslaved that I don't want to. Pick the others, longer or fatter or sharper. The hand brings me down ruthlessly. I want to cry out, but of course I cannot."

"I have friends, other people like me, but they are scattered around the house. One in a boy's room, one in a parent's room, one in a bathroom, another in a girl's room, and a couple downstairs. We all do the same thing. Behind me are a lot of wires, thick, and collect dust. I cannot move, I cannot breathe, but am still able to help the people I live with," wrote Keira LaCasse of her inanimate object.

Can you guess what it is?


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