Want a fresh outlook on life? Volunteer with kids.

I enjoy kids of whatever age, but when I volunteer, I have my focus on middle school grades. Middle School students are eager to explore ideas about justice, social expectations, and cultural differences. They want to test their ideas in story. They push me to explain and to listen carefully. They test all of my assumptions, and their natural humor makes me laugh a lot.

During the school years 2010 through 2015, I had the privilege of teaching a weekly short-story writing class in North Clackamas School District at Happy Valley Middle School. Happy Valley staff have welcomed me. The teachers allowed us to use their rooms and computers. Happy Valley is a very warm place for volunteers.

Each year between twelve and fifteen students regularly attended the after-school writing club. As writing instructor, my goal has been to 20141216_170502 highlight the elements of craft – plot, character, conflict, setting and language choice. During the first two years, I had the fun of working with mystery author, Bill Cameron, in this class. After he had to move away, I enjoyed continuing with the next groups, guiding students in the process of getting their creative ideas on paper in scenes.

I was delighted to encounter students already engaged by their school district teachers in the power of non-fiction writing. The students wished to try their hand at storytelling.

These students enjoyed good stories written for their age group. All were eager to learn more about how to write at least as well as their favorite authors. The students showed interest and respect for each other’s work. For me, their enthusiasm was inspirational.

Most of those years, about half the class and a couple of chaperoning parents have been able to come in the summer to Colonyhouse, a cabin owned by Oregon Writers Colony. From the cabin, we’ve enjoyed the beach and forest adventures in Tillamook County.

The first year, in spite of my urging that they bring gym shoes, kids wore flip-flops into the swamp and spruce forest. After that, word got around, gym shoes came out on forest exploring day.

Evenings at Colonyhouse we wrote and shared stories. The swamp mud and the skunk cabbage figured heavily in several sci-fi and mystery tales.

The school year always seemed too short. The many weeks of class didn’t give all the young authors a chance to bring their stories to completion, but the stories as they existed by the end of each year made me want to know how the students might take them forward.

See the cover for this year’s anthology.

The students sent me selfies to use on the cover. From these images, you can guess how much fun we all had.

Anthology 2015 covers, IMG_2356

I look forward to seeing what these students may do with writing as they mature. The depth of their ideas, their intense passions about right and wrong, and the quality of their efforts and writing skill is a credit to the creative powers of amazing young authors.