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UST Summer Interns Teach Creative Writing

Rather than lounge at the pool, sleep in or spend the day watching TV, as some college students do during summer break, four University of St. Thomas students spent part of their summer building an educational foundation for the writers of tomorrow.

From June 7-25, Hiba Haroon, Alexandra Wittenberg, Alicia Vasquez and Rebecca Mechler worked as interns with the Writers in the Schools (WITS) Summer Creative Writing Workshops, held at four local schools, including Annunciation Orthodox School. The synergistic WITS program pairs interns with teachers to lead classes of Kindergarten, first-grade and third-grade students through the creative writing process.

Children wrote stories, poetry, non-fiction and plays, and at the end of the camp, they published their work in bound anthologies. To celebrate their success, they also did performances and readings for their families and friends during the final week of camp.

Not only did these UST students gain experience working directly with young writers, but they also gained experience in educational development and creative arts administration.

WITS Volunteer Coordinator Jack McBride said that about 100 students applied for the 20 available internship positions, and having one-fifth of those interns from St. Thomas has allowed these UST students, all of whom were recommended by Dr. Janet Lowery, to shine.

“The interns from St. Thomas stood out from the crowd,” McBride said of the intern selection process. “They’ve done an amazing job from Day 1, and they’re an invaluable part of our program.”

Interns had the opportunity to assist teachers with daily classroom projects and interact with the children, often teaching basic writing skills, guiding them through the story-writing process and helping them get their creative ideas down on paper. The student-interns were also given a chance to create their own lesson plans and teach a few classes themselves.

Wittenberg, a senior English major and creative writing minor, was able to read her favorite childhood book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, to the class and have the Kindergarteners draw, paint and write their own version of the story. It was a rewarding opportunity, she said, and one that helped her gain valuable first-hand experience that she might not otherwise get by sitting through a lecture class.

“Implementing a successful plan definitely helped my confidence as a teacher and individual,” Wittenberg said. “I have also definitely learned teaching strategies by watching the other teachers, and I’ve learned ways of calming down kids – the younger kids are very excitable.”

Haroon, a senior international studies major, said she enjoyed every aspect of the WITS internship. The more she worked one-on-one with the first-grade students in her class, the more she found that not only was she able to help inspire creative writing in the children’s learning process, but the students inspired her as well.

“The children’s ideas are so profound and creative that they unconsciously inspired me,” Haroon said. “Their minds are like sponges. They absorb everything. And they’re also persistent on pursuing their own ideas. I am in complete awe of their capacity to embrace new ideas.”

The interns who volunteer for the summer workshop often come from a variety of educational backgrounds, not just English and writing. But in the past five years, McBride said he has noticed that these workshops have often sparked an interest in many interns to continue down the path of education and teaching.

“A lot of our past interns have gone on to become full-time teachers or have pursued graduate programs in creative writing or education,” McBride said. “The interns really get a lot out of the Summer Creative Writing Workshops, especially because they work in team situations alongside master writers and teachers.”

Shown in the second photo: Hiba Haroon