By Manasa Davuluri, AmeriCorps Member '16-'17, City Year Sacramento, Rosa Parks K-8 School

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) takes place every November and challenges participants to write 50,000 words, or the length of an average novel. In October 2016, one NaNoWriMo enthusiast and City Year Sacramento AmeriCorps member began floating an idea at her school site: “What if we held our own student writing challenge?”

Fortunately, her Rosa Parks K-8 City Year school team has many bookworms and writers in its midst. Fueled by the prospect of encouraging burgeoning authors, a committee of five enthusiastic individuals (including myself) formed very quickly.

After some deliberation, the group settled on the rules of the contest: It would begin on November 1st and conclude at the end of the month. Middle school submissions (grades 7-8) would need to be at least 2 pages, whereas elementary submissions (grades 3-6) would be at least 1 page. What constituted a “page” would be left up to the individual’s interpretation and illustrations would be welcomed. For each creative story submitted by an individual, a raffle ticket would be distributed; raffle winners would then be invited to a celebration and movie screening in the City Year room just before winter break. The challenge was dubbed “It’s Writ” (modeled after the colloquial phrase “it’s lit”), and fellow corps members and partner teachers were enlisted to help spread the word.

As the month went on, it was pure delight to see the young writers’ excitement build. I recall how one of my students enthusiastically submitted over 15 stories from his ongoing Godzilla series, and asked about the details of the City Year celebration every time he saw me. One 5th grade classroom submitted a majority of the elementary stories in hopes of watching a movie with their City Year. When the challenge ended, we received over 100 story submissions - an overwhelming response!

True to its original intent, “It’s Writ” successfully encouraged kids to write on their own time, and transformed writing from being viewed as an assignment to something socially acceptable and even “cool.” It provided both voices and validation for students who often get overshadowed because their creative interests aren’t so mainstream. One of my 7th graders doesn’t receive a lot of attention in class due to being much quieter and more self-motivated than her peers; however, she was recognized for her exceptional efforts in the “It’s Writ” challenge and is encouraged to reach her writing potential.

Although the planning process could have gone smoother at times, it was so satisfying to complete this project and celebrate the work of our students. What began as one person’s idea was developed further by a dedicated group, each of us bringing our strengths and creative input. It’s a testament to what City Year corps members are capable of accomplishing as a team, and that’s a beautiful thing.


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