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Woodbury’s young writers attend conference at Bethel

There is nothing quite like writing for Lake Middle School sixth grader Emry Donaldson. 

“I love the fact that if you stretch your imagination you can create a whole other world – you can really do anything with it,” she said. “As long as it involves a pencil and paper I’m interested.” 

Donaldson was able to exercise her love of writing last month, along with 47 other LMS students, at the Young Authors Conference, held May 29 at Bethel University in St. Paul.

District 833’s other middle schools — Woodbury, Oltman and Cottage Grove middle schools — also brought students to the Young Authors Conference (YAC).

During YAC, which is offered through the Success Beyond the Classroom organization, students are able to participate in various breakout sessions, and writing activities, led by local fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, songwriters, playwrights, actors and illustrators.

This is the sixth year that Jan Buikema, LMS literacy coach, has brought students to YAC. 

“A lot of field trips are for fun,” Buikema said, “but this is kind of an academic field trip and those are especially beneficial for kids.” 

In addition to the breakout sessions a book fair and live music were also included in YAC. 

“The students can purchase books by the authors they are getting sessions conducted by,” Buikema said. 

The theme of this year’s YAC related to breaking through writer’s block. 

Some of the sessions that students participated in were: how to start a story; fighting writer’s block; free writing; songwriting; creating characters; and writing from photography. 

“I’ve always had a dream of writing,” LMS seventh grader Max Canestraro said. “I always wanted to learn some new tricks.” 

For many of the students, the highlight of YAC was being able to hear from professional writers. 

“I want to be a writer when I grow up so it’s important for me to hear from people who have been published,” LMS seventh grader Allison Colberg said. “It’s great to hear how they develop their stories in addition to learning ways to make my stories better.” 

LMS eighth grader Sophia Huf agrees. 

“They can teach me how to find my inspiration,” she said. 

In fact, the opportunity to hear from authors is one of the reasons why many students attended. 

“I wanted to go because I thought it would be interesting to hear from some real authors – how they write, how they find inspiration – and then I can apply that to my writing,” LMS sixth grader Aubrie Owen said. 

Buikema said YAC is such a great opportunity for students because not only does it introduce them to the professional world, but it helps inspire them. 

“Being around that academic atmosphere is good role modeling or mentoring for the kids,” she said. “Plus, the authenticity of having real authors, who have been published and who have gone through all the struggles, share their journey gives young people who love to write  hope that one day they will be able to do that same thing.” 

Buikema said she hopes students continue to attend YAC every year because it truly is a great starting point for all young, aspiring writers. 

“It’s such a worthwhile opportunity for young people to expand their creativity and their confidence as a writer,” she said. “It’s a wonderful launching pad for kids to get a start – they can unleash their creativity.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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