Reprinted from the Daily Herald
By Clay Wilson
Classroom 142 of the Mercer Regional Academic Center was as tense as a newsroom on deadline Thursday.
Indeed, the click of keyboards and the concentration of the writers pointed to a looming deadline. The 20-or-so youngsters in the class were typing away on their almost-final drafts of works that were on their way to the publisher.
The rising fourth-through-rising sixth graders from the Henry and Spalding County school systems were participating in Mercer University's "College for Kids Budding Authors" program.
"You can see the tension," said program coordinator Natasha Griffin. "It's crunch time.
The program takes (students) through the writing process-the drafting, the editing, the revising.
"We're trying to help motivate them to keep writing and to make writing a lifelong learning experience," said Mercer's Larry Robinson.
The coordinator of the university's Macon Academic Center, Robinson also manages the College for Kids-a task he says is "really a labor of love." The initiative began in 1990. Since then, more than 10,000 students have participated.
This is the first year that the Henry County School System has participated. Griffin said that 90 students from Henry and Spalding counties took part, at the invitation of teachers who noticed their advanced writing abilities.
The program, which is spread over two weeks, is divided into four 15-hour sessions, with different groups of children in each.
While today is scheduled as a "Celebration Day" for this week's students, the real reward will come sometime in November. That's when the students will receive a hardcover book containing their works and those of their peers.
Although the students may compose numerous stories and poems during their session, Griffin said they choose only three or four to submit for publication.
The students edit their own and each others' selections before submission. An "Editing Steps" checklist includes such items as "I replaced weak words with specific words," and, "I deleted unnecessary words by combining short sentences."
Before they are submitted for publication, the students' works get a final revision from a teacher. The program utilized 10 teachers this year, and 10 assistants-all from Henry County Schools. Griffin, for instance, is an "Interrelated program" teacher at East Lake Elementary School.
Robinson said he considers the program a "partnership" with both the county's educators and parents. "I like to think of our partnership as a way that Mercer and Henry County can join arms and accomplish something," he said.
Interviews with some of the children seemed to confirm that it is accomplishing its goal of reinforcing students' interest in writing.
"It really helps you learn more about (writing)," said rising East Lake Elementary School fourth grader Jackson Spradlin. On Thursday, he was working on one of two submissions for the book, a short story called "A Fight to Remember."
Rising East Lake Elementary fifth grader Lauren Middlebrook was typing her story called "My Story." "I can think of good stories, I can't think of good titles," she said.
The story was about five double-spaced pages long. "It's really supposed to be about two-and-a-half, but I couldn't stop," she said.
Middlebrook, who said she wants to be an author someday, said she has greatly enjoyed the Budding Authors program.
"It's really good," she said. "I want to come back."