CMS students complete ‘Writing Our Stories’ program as published writers

Shelby County High School senior Matthew Gibson reflects on his time as a seventh grader in Columbiana Middle School's Writing Our Stories program. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

Shelby County High School senior Matthew Gibson reflects on his time as a seventh grader in Columbiana Middle School’s Writing Our Stories program at an assembly May 10. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Many students at Columbiana Middle School are now published writers.

An assembly was held at the school May 10 to honor seventh graders whose written works comprise a book published at the culmination of a program called “Writing Our Stories.”

“I think you guys are really in for a treat,” CMS English Language Arts teacher Elizabeth Birdsong said to numerous parents gathered at the assembly. “The kids worked so hard on these books. I have laughed over students’ poems, and I have cried over students’ poems, and I hope you do the same.”

This marks the sixth year CMS has participated in the program, which is sponsored, along with the publication of the students’ anthology, by the Alabama Writers’ Forum and the Shelby County Arts Council.

Columbiana Middle School seventh graders hold their published anthologies at a May 10 assembly marking the completion of the Writing Our Stories program. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

Columbiana Middle School seventh graders hold their published anthologies at a May 10 assembly marking the completion of the Writing Our Stories program. (Reporter Photo/Emily Sparacino)

However, this is the first year Writing Our Stories at CMS was not led by a visiting writer, but Birdsong.

Alabama Writers’ Forum Teaching Writer Tony Crunk, who has administered the program for six years, commended Birdsong for her guidance of the more than 100 CMS students included in the latest anthology.

After comparing the first poem he wrote in the seventh grade with poems written by CMS students, Crunk noted the opportunities offered to students through the program, such as being able to develop “the ability to understand and articulate emotions, share themselves in creative ways and invest in each other’s growth.”

“At my school, there were no creative writing classes,” Crunk said. “I wrote my first poem at age 14 and didn’t publish my first poem until age 38. I can’t help but wonder how different my life would have been had I found Writing Our Stories at age 14 instead of age 34.”

Matthew Gibson and Elizabeth Stancil, veterans of Writing Our Stories and seniors at Shelby County High School, shared experiences and thoughts from their time in the program.

“It was a good opportunity for me to open up and express myself,” Gibson said. “Really enjoy this while you have it. Be the best you can be, no matter what you go through.”

Stancil said the program helped her express her emotions on paper during a difficult time in her life.

“Middle school is really tough,” Stancil said. “I am still thankful to this day that I had the opportunity to write my feelings and write my thoughts. I was thankful I had poetry.”

Stancil has served as the SCHS drum major for three years and will march with the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band in the fall.

“This is something nobody can take away from you,” Alabama Writers’ Forum Executive Director Jeanie Thompson said to students of their work. “Wherever you are in this book can’t be taken away from you. You are a published writer. Congratulations, and keep writing.”

Others in attendance were SCAC Executive Director Bruce Andrews and CMS English Language Arts teacher Richard Scott.

“This really matters,” Andrews said. “The art of being able to communicate effectively, I think, is a lost art.”

Students Dustin Joiner, Chaz Marlow, Jorja Nassirian, J.T. Pennington, Maggie Phillips, Isrealle Portis, Mollie Wilder and Samantha Whitman read their written pieces aloud before the presentation of awards.

Writing Our Stories is also held at Montevallo Middle School.

An end-of-program book publication event at MMS is scheduled for Tuesday, May 17 at 8:30 a.m.