Niagara Falls Reporter 3/1/05.
Written by Frank Thomas Croisdale
(Copyright © 2005 Niagara Falls Reporter)
On a recent Saturday morning, about 350 kids from the Niagara Falls public and parochial school districts gave up a day of leisure to attend a half-day seminar at Niagara Falls High School. Getting kids up and out of bed on the weekend is not an easy task. What made this feat so spectacular was that the kids weren't at the school for an athletic event or a spelling bee. Nor was it a science fair or a "battle-bot" competition. The kids gave up a Saturday morning because they are writers and wanted to learn more about the craft that is already in their blood.
The day was the culmination of Young Writers' Week in Niagara Falls schools. Kids spent the school week of Feb. 7 through Feb. 11 talking about writing and getting together after school to put pencil to paper. They wrote poetry, short stories and even journalistic copy. They studied proper grammar and punctuation. They were instructed in the art of writing a strong lead sentence and the craft of stringing together a rhyming couplet.
Saturday was the payoff for their hard work, as they gathered to showcase their own work and to enjoy the writing of their peers.
I was invited by Joe D'Angelo of the Niagara Falls School District to be one of eight presenters. Joe and Wendy Tedesco worked tirelessly to put together the conference. Each presenter did six back-to-back half-hour sessions with groups of students from the city's schools.
The other presenters were local historian and author Paul Gromosiak, Buffalo News reporter Paul Westmoore, master storyteller Sharon Holley, young-adult novelist Larry Dickens and children's book authors Judy Bradbury and Peggy Thomas. Rick Pfeiffer of the Niagara Gazette was an unexplained no-show.
Each presenter was assigned to a classroom. My first group was from Hyde Park Elementary School. Over 20 kids filed into the classroom, each with eyes as big as moon-pies and grins as wide as those seen on Halloween jack-o-lanterns.
After talking about what it's like to write a newspaper column each week and the experience of writing my book, "Buffalo Soul Lifters," I turned the tables on the grade-schoolers by asking them a not-so-simple question.
"If you could write a story about any subject you'd like, with no restrictions, what would you write about?" I queried.
Little hands shot into the air like Fourth of July rockets shooting out of a bottle. The answers to my question were as varied as the interests of the kids.
"I'd write about cats," one girl told me.
"You mean house cats?" I asked.
"No, big cats. Lions and tigers, those kind of cats," came her reply.
One young boy said he'd write about space travel, while one of his classmates said that she'd work on her autobiography.
Later in the day, I'd ask the same question of kids from 60th Street and G.J. Mann elementary schools and hear many creative answers. Many kids were fascinated by animals, while others have had their imaginations sparked by the Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket books and plan to write the next great fantasy novel.
One boy garnered a lot of head nods when he said that he'd like to write a story "about a dragon that eats my older brother."
They left with a host of great story ideas and a boundless supply of energy to get them written.
The high school students posed a very different challenge. They were there because they were considering writing as a career.
I met with the kids from Niagara Catholic High School first. It was my smallest contingent of the day, just two kids.
Because of the small group size, we were able to talk in some detail about their writing experience and plans for the future. The group from my alma mater, Niagara Falls High School, was delayed, so we only had 15 minutes together. We made the most of it, and I'm proud to report that strong minds are still a staple at the city's public high school.
My final group of the day was from Niagara Middle School. The students had many insightful questions. One young man asked if Niagara Falls was a good place to make one's mark as a writer. I told him that it had been most kind to me, but that kids and adults had to work together to make sure the public library stays open. The kids agreed with me that, even in this age of the Internet, the public library is an invaluable asset to writers.
The Niagara Middle School kids surprised me by asking me to sign their Young Writers' Week T-shirts as they filed out of the room. It was a precursor of things to come as I joined the other presenters in the main auditorium to put a cap on the day. We were announced one-by-one and asked to come up to the stage to receive a commemorative T-shirt. As each name was read aloud, the kids in the audience gave us an ovation worthy of a rock star.
Later, the presenters convened in the teachers' lounge for lunch before parting ways. We agreed it was a pleasure to see so many young people excited about writing. The day was special for me, because I was able to share the stage with Paul Gromosiak. When I was one of those moon-pie-eyed students, Paul was my teacher. He was one of the first to recognize that I had talent and encouraged me to follow my bliss.
I felt as though I'd come full-circle by sharing the gifts Paul had helped me build with students just starting out on their own writing journeys. As Paul and I were leaving the school, we ran in to Joe D'Angelo's wife, Melissa. She had been the liaison for the Niagara Falls High School group. She told us that some of the kids were so inspired by the day that they were starting an after-school writing club. It was just the tonic that we needed to warm us against the frigid late-winter air.
Frank Thomas Croisdale is a Contributing Editor at the Niagara Falls Reporter.