Local News: English department contest recognizes writing skills in young students (1/31/22)

University Press prints winning student works in a book, becoming the young writers first printed and published work in most cases. Above is the cover of the printed and published book winning writers receive.

Image submitted by Crystal Bailey

For the past 40 years, the English department has encouraged young writers through the Katherine Hinchey Cochran Writing Achievement Awards. The program collects written work from fourth through twelfth graders in local schools.

The awards are an outlet for student creativity, while also building students ties to Southeast. Students can submit pieces for poetry, nonfiction and essays.

Teresa Cooper, Leopold High School English teacher, and her colleagues guide their students to submit a piece for poetry, then they can choose to submit a second piece in nonfiction or essays.

Cooper’s students work on these pieces outside of class, and Cooper is available to help with editing if needed. Cooper helps her students prepare by teaching a poetry unit and then lets them create from there.

Cooper and her students began participating in the contest 30 years ago. According to Cooper, they’ve been lucky enough to have some winners throughout the years.

“It’s just so exciting to watch them be recognized and be recognized on that kind of platform,” Cooper said. “And then when they come back, they have more confidence to attempt other things that they might not have before.”

Pieces are submitted to the English department by the end of October or the beginning of November, and judging begins around the second week of the spring semester. The submissions are broken into grade levels and then into one of the three writing categories, associate professor of English Sandra Cox said.

Judges throughout the department are assigned a set age group and writing category to judge. Some qualities the judges look for include the ability to develop a thesis, critical thinking and the ability to show the readers what they mean, according to Cox.

“Often, I think, we write not just to show what we already know, but as a means of learning,” Cox said. “I think we try to build a rubric that rewards students for taking risks, who are doing a new thing.”

In past years, the English department hosted an awards ceremony in Rose Theater with students, as well as their parents and teachers. This provided an opportunity for families to meet and get to know faculty members within the department, while also celebrating the students’ success.

The department won’t be hosting an in-person awards ceremony this semester, but winning students will still receive their awards, English department chair Susan Kendrick said. All of the winning pieces are sent to the University Press and printed in a book the winning writers receive, providing students with their first printed and published work.

“Writing is never fixed; it can always be improved. It’s very flexible,” Kendrick said. “People can be creative, and there’s so many different ways to express yourself through writing.”

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