As previously noted in this blog, four of Alison Hawkes' seventh grade writers were recognized for their pieces entered into the Southern Maine Writing Project competition, in association with the Alliance for Young Artiists and Writers and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the Scholastic Writing Awards for the Maine Region. I promised to get hold of copies of the four students' works for publication, so here they are. Enjoy!
“So…” a language arts teacher
mumbled haltingly in his soft voice.
are going to read the results,” he said louder, clapping his small white hands
in vain attempt to direct the class’s attention towards him. Finally, when
everyone was relatively quiet, he started talking in his annoying grating voice
that reminded most people in the small classroom of nails grinding on a
hope all of you children remember our contest four weeks ago,” Rose raised her eyebrows
in surprise without taking her eyes off the book laid in her lap.
What contest? She
thought skeptically, and reluctantly took her eyes of her book to see what her
language arts teacher was going on about.
contest?” he was probing angrily, because other students besides Rose were
expressing surprise and doubt.
tell me you forgot about the contest? The one you entered in hopes of winning a
scholarship…” Mr. Bar’s grainy voice slowly stopped with pleasure when he saw
his students nodding their heads with understanding. One student even went so
far as to ask for the results.
I have the results here, “ Mr. Bar went on is his horribly breathy voice,
waving a crumpled piece of paper in his hand. He stared with the small watery
eyes of a rat at Rose, and a small scary smile pulled up at the corners of his
mouth. Rose turned away, disgusted.
winners from the United States of America are… Michelle More from Alabama,
Gregory Malice from Delaware, Brianna Banner from Colorado, and for the last
and final winner… Rolaz, no, I mean Rosen…” as Mr. Barstruggled to pronounce a evidently hard
name on the paper, Rose and a few other of her classmates directed their
attention back on books on their laps, or on planes flying by out the window. But
when Mr. Bar managed to pronounce the name correctly all of their eyes fixated
upon him in amazement.
it… Caldwell from our own state of Vermont!” he finally said. Rose’s book
dropped out of her hands onto the floor. Mr. Bar was walking toward her with
that creepy half smile, his hands out stretched as if to hug her. Even in her
bewilderment, Rose managed to scoot away from his white thick fingers.
never told me your real name, Rosénz,”
Mr. Bar said, sounding confidential and scarily secretive.
Rose muttered awkwardly, twisting in her chair to get away from him.
What? I never expected to win the writing contest! What
are you talking about? This must be a joke! Rose
thought as she muttered her “well…”.
Our own little Rose won a nationwide writing contest and won a scholarship!”
Mr. Bar exclaimed. Yes… I know …thought
Rose, sarcasm coming through despite her enormous disbelief.
I know…” she muttered out loud, a small grin appearing on her face.
Rose walked home from school, she thought everything out. Earlier that month,
Mr. Bar had made them free write for class. At the end of class, he told them
that the piece of writing would be entered into a nationwide contest. The
winner would receive a scholarship to a very good writing school.And now, I’ve just won…Rose thought happily to herself.
was a sophomore in high school, and even with a year left until college time,
she was starting to get antsy. The guarantee of acceptance into one of the best
schools in the country lifted a substantial load off of Rose’s shoulders. She
was just breaking into a run to tell her mother the amazing news, when
something rammed into her backpack.
spun around in surprise and uttered a small shriek. Clinging onto her backpack
was a girl, looking as if she was feeling the exact opposite of Rose’s
oh my…” Rose’s voice trailed to sad, small, confused close. She took the girl
in her arms and could feel the distressed shaking of her twin sister, Mara.
Mara looked horrible. Tears streaked down her face and she was as pale as a
piece of paper, and trembling like a leaf. The twins stood together for a
moment, one supporting the other, and muffled sobs emerged. Finally, Rose
gently held Mara out in front of her and asked the question in her mind.
happened to you Mara?” she asked as a few late teas straggled down her sister’s
face. Attempting to compose herself, Mara pushed a strand of hair out of her
face and took a large, calming breath.
she muttered softly, “Let’s walk.”The two sisters slowly started walking down the street, arm in arm.
failed a math test,” Mara said in a rush, and more tears fell from her blue
Rose looked confused but posed her next question.
hate to say it Mar, but you never cared about failing tests. What made this one
got a ZERO!” Mara wailed, and buried her head in Rose’s shoulder. Rose tried to
hold back a little gasp of surprise, but failed.
know!” Mara screamed, “How could I get a zero?” she continued quietly, wiping
tears off of her face and looking as if she was done with her rant for the time
so sorry Mar,” Rose started, but Mara interrupted her.
not be sorry for me. I will do it over
and not fail this time!” Mara
whispered with passion.
night was not a good night for Mara. After getting yelled at by her parents,
she was sent up to her room to contemplate on her many mistakes. Mara’s
naturally rebellious attitude caused her to defend herself and “talk back” to
her parents and get her in even more trouble. Up in her room, she was brushing
her long red hair angrily with a battered brush. Occasionally she muttered
inaudible angry statements at her parents, but knew all the blame rested on her
shoulders, and it felt terrible. Sure, she had gotten bad grades before, but
never a zero. She flopped back on her bed and groaned inwardly at her own
failure. How in the world could I get all the questions wrong? She asked herself furiously, before
heaving a sob and crying heavily. Through the thin wall, Rose could hear her
twin moaning about grades and teachers, but most importantly, collage.
was having an equally bad night. An idea had fluttered into her head right
before she got into bed, and now she was tossing and turning in bed, arguing
What am I thinking? I won fair and square! But she is so
bad… I’ll have no trouble getting into any collage I want to, but Mara… NO! I
won it’s mine? Rose’s angry statements were
sounding more and more like questions in her head, and she tried again, in
vain, to shut her eyes and fall off into sleep. But as hard as she tried, she
could not fall asleep. Fine, I’ll tell her in the morning. Rose thought after hours more of inner debating.
She’ll be so happy… good thing I haven’t told mom and
dad… Rose’s thinking was getting foggy as
sleep crept in, and her conscience was guilt free. So happy… She thought, and fell asleep.
woke up in a cold sweat. Her dreams were all about collage. Rose was
graduating, wearing the traditional black hat with gold tassel. Mara was
standing in the audience, looking beautiful as always, but she was alone,
brainless and feeling stupid. She had flunked out of community collage, and was
standing among such smart people.
Her green eyes were wide and crazily small pupiled. When a
soft knock echoed on her door, she jumped with surprise.
got up as soon as the sun rose, and grabbed the small creamy envelope that her
teacher had given her after Language arts class. After running to her sister’s
room, she knocked hesitantly on the door.
in!” Mara said shakily, composing herself and calming herself before her family
member came in. Rose stepped through the door and sat down on the bed next to
her sister’s feet.
I…” Rose blushed prettily, and inexplicably, Mara felt a burst of pure anger.
you came in here to mock my lack of a brain, just go.” Mara said hotly, turning
over in her bed. Rose looked somewhat taken back, but continued stubbornly.
listen to me, I have a scholarship that I am going to give to you.”
Mara stayed in her bed, back to
Rose for half of a second, then jumped up on to her knees and looked
incredulously at Rose.
won a writing contest… and… well, I want to give the award to you, because I
will not have any trouble getting into any collage I want but you…will have a
bit of trouble.”
were streaming down Mara’s face, and her heart was beating fast. She flung
herself into her sister’s arms and choked out sob after sob.
you Rose, thank you so, so much… I love you,” she added tearily as an
afterthought, hugging her beloved sister.
Why Homework Doesn’t Help
by Lily Jordan
used to believe in homework, too. I joined the other kids in complaining about
it and begging the teachers for “no homework tonight”, but deep down I knew
that homework was helping me learn. After all, my parents and teachers all said
so. And with all those worksheets and reading logs, I had to be learning
something. I was a good student; I wasn’t one of those rebellious, “bad” kids
who thought homework really was pointless. Besides, I thought, it must be a
good thing if so many schools all over the country agree that it works. Right?
I started middle school. All of a sudden, it wasn’t so easy anymore. There were
quizzes, tests, and grades, and there was lots more homework. I was constantly
forgetting or losing things. It was hard to get good grades because it was so
much more difficult to keep up with the homework. I dreaded going home after a
long day at school and sitting down to start even more worksheets and reading.
But of course, I wouldn’t learn as well without homework. Or at least that’s
what I thought until I was about eleven. That was when I started doing some
reading on the subject, and found that the arguments used to justify homework,
for the most part, didn’t make sense. I had assumed that to be a “good” student,
I had to like homework, but now I realized that homework really wasn’t helping
me. And it wasn’t helping the millions of other kids across the country who had
to do it, too.
and parents who support homework claim that homework reinforces skills and
provides time for learning that would not be available otherwise. But what
exactly do they mean by “reinforcing skills”? If students know, for example,
how to do long division, then what will they learn from doing a whole page of
problems? And if they don’t how to divide, either they won’t be able to
complete the homework or they’ll do every problem the wrong way. And if
students only partly understand the concept, repeating the process over and
over does nothing to help them learn the rest. On the other hand, doing the
same work in school would give the students an opportunity to ask the teacher
for help when they’re having trouble. It’s unfair to put that burden on parents
– after all, they’re paying taxes so the school can teach their children.
argument that “there’s not enough time in class to teach everything without
assigning homework” also seems unfair, when you think about it. After all,
students are in school 6 to 7 hours a day. That should be long enough for kids
to learn what they need to learn, without having to take school home with them.
Kids who get home at 3:00 and go to bed at 9 only have about 3 hours to
themselves if you include time spent eating dinner, doing chores, and getting
ready for bed. Yet many schools are taking 1 or 2 hours, or even all, of that
time away. Even if you go by the 10-minutes-per-grade-level rule, that would
still only leave 1 hour and 50 minutes of free time for a 7th grader
like me. And that time is quickly filled with other activities: sports
practices and games, practicing an instrument, playing with pets, working on
projects, and much more. Clearly homework is taking up too much time, to the
point where kids don’t have free time
anymore. By assigning homework, schools don’t respect their students’ right to
their own lives outside of school. What right do they have to tell kids what to
do with their free time?
people think that homework, no matter what problems it causes, is still
necessary because of the learning benefits it provides. This common belief is
actually not supported by the evidence. There is no conclusive proof that
homework definitely helps students to learn. Studies that show students who do
their homework get better grades and score better on tests prove nothing about
the value of the homework, since homework assignments make up a large part of
the grade, and tests evaluate how well students know material that was on the
homework. One study by researchers at Penn State University found that students
who did the best on international standardized tests came from countries where
kids are assigned less homework than in the United States. And even if homework
did help kids learn, it wouldn’t necessarily be the most effective or the least
stressful way. So why do teachers still assign it?
believe homework teaches students nonacademic skills such as time management
and good work habits. But the question is, how? Forcing kids to manage their
time doesn’t teach them how; it only ends up in frustration and feeling like a
failure if they can’t get it all done. And if they do finish, what is their
reward? Nothing. Besides, if kids have bad study habits in the first place –
waiting until the last minute, not concentrating, failing to plan ahead – these
are exactly what homework will reinforce.
people say completing homework gives kids a sense of accomplishment, but who
are they to say what we get a sense of? By the time I’m done with my homework,
I’m too exhausted to have a sense of accomplishment. And if learning time
management is the goal of homework, then why are parents encouraged to “set up
a time for your child to do homework every day” and “make sure your child’s
homework gets done”? The inevitable nagging and battles over homework create
conflict in families and certainly don’t teach kids important values.
only is homework ineffective, it also has negative effects on kids. When
teachers talk about all the academic benefits of homework, they forget about
the stress it causes students. The idea that “if you’ve done all the homework
you were supposed to, there’s nothing to worry about” doesn’t make sense. For
one thing, after I’ve completed my homework– and there must be lots of other
kids who feel this way – I always have a nagging feeling that I forgot
something, even when I’ve checked to make sure I’ve gotten everything done.
There’s no way of being completely sure if you’ve done everything you were
supposed to. And if I suddenly realize (too late) that I completely forgot
about the homework in some class, I get stressed out and worry about it all day
before that class. When kids come to class without their homework, instead of
trying to solve the problem or at least find out why they don’t have it, the
teacher punishes or admonishes them. I’ve even seen kids humiliated in front of
the whole class. Fear of being punished is one of the biggest causes of stress
associated with homework.
if students aren’t in danger of being punished, they can still be stressed out
and not do as well. The reason is that they are encouraged to focus on getting
a good grade rather than learning. Homework forces students to concentrate on
doing well instead of on what they are actually doing. Studies have proven that
people don’t learn well when their main focus is how well they are performing.
When they are immersed in what they are learning, however, they retain the
knowledge and skills better.
causes unnecessary stress and takes kids’ free time away from them, but the
worst part is that it jeopardizes their natural love of learning. No matter
what schools say, there is no need to “build a love of learning” because it is
already there. Instead, teachers and parents should make their best effort to
make sure kids don’t associate learning with boredom, frustration, and stress.
Because that’s just what homework is helping kids do.
The Bereft Girl
& The Coon Cat
vivid, wide green eyes and adorable, pink nose. Idiotic cat, I thought to myself, regarding the dreadful house
pet as though it were an oath. I glared at the curious creature standing
uncertainly by my opened door.Adopting a cat on Halloween must be a bad sign, I mused as I dabbled my older sister’s scarlet rouge
around my mouth to make it appear as though it were blood for my vampire
costume. The cat meowed, as though begging permission to enter. I tossed in the
plastic fangs and hissed at her, but she sauntered in anyway. I sighed as I
looked down, feeling my angry façade dissipate and my sad self emerge,
reminding myself of why I so hated this cat.
all started on one day in early September, a little after school had started
and I’d begun sixth grade. My dog Layla, a mahogany King Cavalier Charles
spaniel, was acting strangely, and everyone at our house was trying to figure
out what was wrong. When my mother was leaning down to pet her… it happened. Layla
bit her hand. Hard. I’d been walking
past her to reach the staircase when I heard her scream. I stood frozen
paralyzed with fear. The next hour passed and came slowly, each moment
stinging, every tick of the clock a scarring scald. The words of my mother
crying and my older brother Anthony trying to calm her, telling her that it
really wasn’t that bad, and my mother’s final, sure statement of, “That damn
dog goes. Soon.”
The next thing I know, some strange woman wearing a
sweater with multiple cartoon cavaliers is gingerly prying Layla out of my arms
and I’m crying and shaking my head fervently, begging someone to please have
some sense and let her stay with me.
Then I’m standing by the front door and watching the woman place Layla in a
cage in the back of her car, and Layla’s holding her paws up against the cage
and whimpering, facing me. The woman pulls her car out of the driveway, and
Layla’s frightened, worried face, it pulls me toward her and I’m running after
that car, my heart beating fast. The car goes faster down the road and soon I’m
falling behind and the car begins to grow farther away and all I can see is
Layla, Layla, Layla. I fell to my
passed. The first few were… difficult. I stayed in my room all of the time, only
coming out to eat and go to school. I hardly talked to anyone, and became
incredibly introverted and withdrawn, whereas I used to be more of the bubbly
sort. My mother wanted to make amends, but I was still feeling stubbornly
bitter. It took a long time for me to get better, but bit-by-bit, I did. Just
when I’d felt I was back, almost all the way back to my old self, what should
my mother do but adopt a cat? Is she trying to crush me?
mother said that while she was babysitting for an old friend of hers, she saw
the lady shoving all of her pets into boxes to be dropped off at the Animal
Refuge League. This lady already had a rep for recklessly, impulsively buying
pets. She bought five birds only to set them into the wild when she got bored
with them, three dogs that she had for years only to give them away, a put bull mix named Dakota that she kept for
three months, and a bunny that
she gave away when she learned it had a teeth disease. And she didn’t really
treat them that nice, either. The most blatant and horrifying case of how bad
she is with pets was the Puppy Incident, as I dubbed it. She had two dogs, one
an unfriendly adult and one a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed puppy. She put them
both in the dog cage and went shopping for hours. When she came back, there was
only one dog living.
there my mother was, watching her in horror as she piled pet after pet into the
Refuge boxes. One of the animals kept popping her head out, and the lady had to
keep taping it back down as the animal struggled to free herself. My mother
tried to look away, but she couldn’t resist and turned to face the animal. She
was a cat, a Maine Coon Cat, a mix of mahogany, burnt sienna and coal black
with eyes as jagged and majestic as emeralds. And she looked miserable. The image of her face was burnt into my mother’s
mind, it would never leave. With that image in her mind, mother watched the
woman and all of her pets drive away to meet much happier and healthier fates.
she hoped that was the case.But it wasn’t good enough. Would the
cat’s new owner take her of like she deserved? Or would the new owner be the
same as her previous one? She couldn’t stop thinking. What if the cat got an even worse owner? Would she be held responsible for the cat’s
gloomy fate? After lots of thinking and planning, my mother came to a verdict;
she would get that cat.The next day, she got the lady who had
so carelessly given the cat and all of her pets away to drive her up to the
Refuge League. When she arrived and told the workers that she would like to
adopt a particular cat, she learned that she had to take a test to see if their
personalities were compatible. My mother hadn’t known about this test, and she
answered carefully, knowing that one wrong answer could ruin everything she’d
anticipated. Thankfully, she passed and soon the new cat was home.
the cat’s impatient meow, my reverie faded and I was soon snapped back into
reality, to my room illuminated by the warm afternoon sun and the plastic
hanging out of my mouth. The cat jumped on my bed, and I set the rouge down and
removed the fangs. Tentatively petting her.
make an odd pair. A bereft girl and a coon cat,” I chuckled to my self as the
words came out, they sounded so unusual and so true.
can’t hate you,” I murmured resignedly as she purred. “But you’re name really is
stupid, you know.”
Cee Isabella. That was her name. Her
previous owner’s four year-old daughter named her, and my mother felt it
would’ve been wrong to change her name after five years of being called that.
gathered herself up from my bed, jumped down and walked stiffly, staunchly
away, her tail held high and her hair standing up. Before she left the room
completely, I saw her hold half of her face by the door, one eye facing me, and
she winked. That is to say, she blinked one eye at me, but I just knew that was a wink. It had to be; there was no other
in that moment I knew we would be that
odd pair. The bereft girl would stop feeling so bereft with the help of her
trusty coon cat. They would be okay.
by Ethan Murphy
“Ughhh, seriously mom!” I was
yelling from my bed.
It was too early for this, way too early.
“Ethan get down here, put on this
shirt and let’s go. We’re already late!”
Half stumbling, half being
forcefully dragged by an iron fist of my mom’s, I made my way into the kitchen
and put on the dress shirt she had picked out.
“C’mon Mom this shirt sucks, give
me something I’ll wear.”
“You’ll wear that shirt you’ll like
it!” My mom angrily replied.
She seemed to be in a stressful
state of mind so I lay off for the moment. However, I had a never-ending list
of complaints waiting to be let loose. When I saw the pants she had in store
for me I couldn’t hold off.
“Mom, it is 7:30 in the morning, it’s
a Saturday, I had a basketball game last night, it’s freezing cold outside and
Christmas isn’t for over a month, we can take the pictures any other day but
for God’s sake not today!”
‘So much for holding off’ I
thought. This was the latest episode of Christmas pictures we have every year.
I always dread this day because I seem to always end up upset and punished
before the day is over. Believe me, I try to cooperate but the camera lady is
just so demanding and it’s just so tiring to follow her every command. We drove
down the rocky beach up the street from my house. It did look good this early
in the morning; still I didn’t think it was worth the price I was paying.
Five minutes in and I was already
sick of the lady.
“Can you smile more dear?” She
asked politely although she couldn’t hide the annoyance on her face.
I over-forced a smile and received
a frown from the lady. “Don’t overdue it dear.”
I tried again to smile in the
terrible condition I was in. I think she appreciated it more because this time
the camera actually snapped. One thing I didn’t quite understand was why I was
told to hold the pose for three minutes while she took three hundred pictures.
Then she said something that almost grabbed an explicit word out of my mouth
and threw it directly at the camera lady.
“Dear, you can’t shiver it ruins
the texture of the picture. O dear we’ll have to retake all of them.”
“Mom-m-m-m-mmmmmmm,” I said
entirely fed up. “I shivered cause it’s freaking twenty-five degrees and
apparently we have to start allllll over again.”
“Then don’t shiver, duh.”
I wanted to kill her.
This was the first major dispute of
the day. Throughout the next three hours, that’s right three hours, I continued
to pose and have my picture taken. There was one pose where I was asked to lay
down on very sharp rocks. My first response was no.
“You’re going to unless you want to
lose some privileges.” Was my Mom’s response.
So that ended this argument as well
as most of the conflicts between my parents and I. The only smile I could fake
for that pose was a painful one. It wasn’t a great smile and guess who pointed
that out within the second.
“Work with me dear, try not to look
like you’re in pain.” Said the camera lady.
I winced as I adjusted my leg to
shift in to a more comfortable position on the pointy boulder. The smile cam
easier now and I relaxed as the wind ceased blowing. The camera lady seemed
pleased of the progress we were making.
“Very good, Very good,” She yelled
with enthusiasm. “Keep this up and you won’t find yourself here much longer.”
I wanted to reply or act excited
but kept the position frozen for the fear of shivering and screwing the lady up
Throughout this whole event one
thought had been sitting in the back of mind. What was the point of taking
hundreds of photos of one pose, then having 10 different poses to photograph.
Do I really need that many photos? What was the point of it? Why take so many?
Surely we don't have enough relatives to send photos to. Is it because they
need the perfect photo? I think one of the pictures would suffice out of all
that have been taken.
I pondered these thoughts as I was
ordered to lean against a rock and once again force a smile. The sun was almost
directly above me so I figured we were finishing up.
“Very good dear, very good dear,”
Said the camera lady, “Keep this up and we’ll be finished soon.”
“Not soon enough,” I thought in my
I watched as my Mom looked through
the album. Her expression constantly changed from a smile to a frown as she
eyed the quality of the pictures. Then after about five minutes of viewing the
roll of way too many photos, my Mom broke into a humongous smile.
“I want that one,” She said
“You don’t want to see the others?”
Asked the camera lady.
“Nope, this is perfect,” My mom
That’s when I realized why I had to
sit there for so long. The reason I posed in many uncomfortable positions. My
Mom was extremely proud of me. She wanted all of our relatives to see her
child. She needed the absolute perfect picture, and I think she just found it.
So even though I had to wake vigorously early, suffer in the cold for hours and
lean on rocks that jabbed into my skin in different directions. It was all
because she wanted to portray me as best she could. On the drive back I
actually thanked her for putting me through that.