Authors in Schools program sparks creativity, reading for Sea to Sky students 

Writers encourage students to share their voice

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY REBECCA WOOD BARRETT - READ RIGHT Last year, author Katherine Fawcett joined students at Xet'olacw school in Mount Currie to share her novel, The Little Washer of Sorrows.
  • Photo courtesy Rebecca Wood Barrett
  • READ RIGHT Last year, author Katherine Fawcett joined students at Xet'olacw school in Mount Currie to share her novel, The Little Washer of Sorrows.

The next great Canadian author could be sitting in a school right now in Whistler or at Xet'olacw in Mount Currie as the Authors in Schools program brings writers into the classrooms in the coming weeks for its 2016 program.

Last year, Xet'olacw students undertook a writing project in which they created conversations about refugees after reading Stella Harvey's novel The Brink of Freedom.

Riffing on the difficulties that refugees face, the students researched, brainstormed, then created conversations, which were later recorded.

The results were "heartbreaking and poignant," Xet'olacw teacher Joanna Hindle said of the Grade 11 and 12 students' vignettes.

"Two of the students did a heartbreaking conversation after they learned that refugees often leave their documentation at home — they won't bring it on purpose and then will send for it later," she said. "So two students created a story of an uncle still in the country of origin who was holding the documents hostage — saying he would send the documents if they sent him money. So it was the betrayal of family."

Another story focused on face-to-face dialogue as a mother tried to save her sick child by passing it over a fence to another refugee.

"The students had a huge sense of accomplishment," said Hindle. "I think they were proud of themselves and they were also open to getting feedback."

Local authors Rebecca Wood Barrett, who is the Authors in Schools program manager, and Stella Harvey, who is a founder of the Whistler Writers' Festival and an Authors in Schools alumni, worked with students last year — with terrific results.

"(Wood Barrett and Harvey) showed the students that writing is a concrete option," said Hindle. "And it's done so much for (the students') self-esteem as writers."

This year's Authors in Schools lineup features well-known writers Kenneth Oppel and Lisa Moore. Richard Van Camp was scheduled to appear but cancelled due to a family emergency.

Wood Barrett said it is a feat to pull all the pieces together for the program. "We expanded the elementary program to Squamish this year. And we include Pemberton and Lil'wat Nation," she said.

Wood Barrett said last year's appearance by author Eric Walters lit a fuse, especially for the boys.

"He made very pointed remarks to the boys about how they can be athletes and good citizens and academics — the idea of being this complete person," said Wood Barrett of Walters, a prolific author who's written more than 100 books. "It was really powerful for the boys to pay attention."

The end result is that the authors usually strike a chord.

"One of the things we're really hoping for the program is to inspire students to tell their own stories. It's not just about reading and learning, it's about giving them permission to talk about their own lives," she said.

For Spring Creek teacher-librarian Sara Leach, the students get jazzed and meet authors whose works may well influence their lives.

"It's like having a famous person come and visit their school," she said. It's widening their options for reading choices."

"I was a big reader," said Leach of one of the books of her childhood. "One of my favourite books was Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl. I remember being so sad when I got to the end, that I went right back to the beginning and read it again."

Aside from the classroom visits, the authors will conduct reading events Oct. 15 at the Whistler Public Library.



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