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Writing their way to the top

By KATIE ELLINGTON News Staff Reporter MOUNT VERNON — Two years ago, Mount Vernon Middle School didn’t even have a Power of the Pen team. This year, they took second place overall at the state competition, held May 24 at the College of Wooster.

“I am incredibly proud of what our Power of the Pen team has accomplished this year. Writing is such an important skill,” said Darin Prince, middle school principal.

The statewide program challenges students to write original short stories in a timed competition. Both the seventh and eighth grade contests had approximately 200 qualifying writers from around the state. Mount Vernon was one of the few schools to send six students —the maximum allowed per school at the state level.

“I was hoping to place in the top five, though that hope was tempered by the sheer number of excellent writers at state competition,” said Becky Cronk, advisor to the eighth grade team. As the top teams were announced, Cronk watched her students react to the news.

“When the third place team took the stage, my students seemed a bit relieved— like, ‘It's over. We did well, but we didn't win.’ And then we were announced,” she said. “Shock, surprise, pure joy were the expressions on their faces…. What a comeback for the school. I am so proud of them all.”

The Jackets’ state competitors include eighth graders Emily Hammond, Julie King and Tiffany Marchio and seventh graders Ian Hawthorne, Hannah Hofferberth and Rachel Ruth. The first three rounds of writing were 35 minutes, five minutes shorter than what students had grown used to at district and regional competitions. King and Hofferberth both qualified for the fourth and final “power round,” where they had just 30 minutes to write their short story. “I was excited but also kind of nervous because I knew everyone was going to be really good in that round,” said King.

Neither expected to make it to the power round, but Hofferberth said the last story she wrote ended up being her favorite.

“I felt like writing something sad because the other ones weren’t sad at all,’” said Hofferberth. “It was this girl basically trying to avenge her sister who died in a war.”

Hofferberth spun her narrative based on the prompt, ‘I have promises to keep.’ King’s favorite piece of writing from the competition had a sillier tone.

“It’s about these little kids and there’s a plague. But it’s ‘the cootie touch’ so if a boy picks his nose and touches a girl, she has the cootie touch and it gets spread throughout the grade.”

King said she favored “The Cootie Touch” because it had stronger character development and a better setting than her other tales. It’s not unusual for members of the Power of the Pen team to speak about their stories this way. In fact, one of the See WRITING on Page 3A

Katie Ellington/ News The Mount Vernon Middle School’s Power of the Pen team won second place in the overall state rankings. Its members include, front row, from left, Hannah Hofferberth and Emily Hammond; and back row, Ian Hawthorne, Rachel Ruth, Julie King and Tiffany Marchio.

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biggest takeaways from Power of the Pen is an improved ability to identify key literary elements and evaluate their own work as well as that of their peers.

Cronk said watching her students learn to be better writers while encouraging their classmates was incredibly satisfying.

“I saw these students offer each other critical analysis and praise of their writings all year long,” said Cronk. “Regardless of how they did in competition, they were supportive of each other.”

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