Small Town School

Joseph High School is actually where all public school classes for this area meet, ages Kindergarten through 12th grade. Everyone’s in the high school building because class sizes keep shrinking and when the old Forest Service building burned down, they moved into the Elementary School. All totaled, there are about 200 kids in K-12 at JHS and today I got to meet 7 out of 15 members of the graduating class of 2011. Of those 7, 3 have decided to bypass their study hall to take a gamble on me for twice-weekly writing workshops over the course of the next three weeks.
Small is good, and motivated is even better, so even though it might seem like driving 2700 miles to teach just a few students isn’t worth it, I beg to differ. I’m psyched to work with a few high school seniors that want to write stories, want extra homework, and want genuine feedback for improvement on their craft. It won’t be this way at all the schools, for example, next week I’ll start up with Joseph’s 5th and 6th graders (15 students? 22?) for some fun with similes.
Here’s the view these kids have from the JHS parking lot:
  [High peaks of the Wallowas on direction, and what I think is locally referred to as “the Zumwalt prairie” (though I have to learn more about this) in the other.]
I read them a short story called “Amplitude” that I wrote about two teenagers from a small mountain town and what they do for fun. We discussed adding pertinent details to fiction, colloquialisms, and how to get in and out of flashback scenes. The students were engaged listeners and they weren’t afraid to share their own views. When I asked them what it would be like to write a story about teenagers in Wallowa County, their eyes lit up.
Local colloquialisms? “Hurricane Creek = ‘her-kane-crick’,” they told me.
Local lore? “The ghost herd of elk whose ivory teeth reflect the light of the moon,” one student recalled.
Local knowledge? “The every day presence of Chief Joseph coupled with the ability to constantly forget the presence of the Nez Perce,” they all agreed.
Their first assignment? A 2-6 pages story that incorporate specific local information pertinent to a given scene. They need to employ dialogue and description and come prepared to share. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit and I can’t wait to see what Thursday brings.
Meantime, I’ve headed to the local library to try and find out more about this ghost heard of elk…
Showing 3 comments
  • sher

    Ohhhh that sounds fun. When I was in school I would have LOVED an assignment like that..

    And the heard of elk is intriguing…

  • Anonymous

    What a great opportunity for those few students. I would have loved that kind of freedom and guidance as a kid. I am looking forward to hearing more about these kids and their work as you teach them.

  • Mendy (Hillpoet)

    I wish I was in that class right now. I bet you're a great teacher–well, in fact, I know you are. If we can get a little advance notice when you move again, how bout setting up a writing workshop here in Fayetteville for grown women. I bet we can make you an extra dollar or two for your efforts. I'll be in Asheville in May (5-9) for the Asheville Wordfest. Where will you be then? Have fun with that incredible scenery and the opportunity to teach a handful of interested kids!

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