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Mundelein students interview faculty for writing workshop
By Hope Babowice | Daily Herald Columnist

Justin Rayyan, 10, a student at West Oak Middle School, interviews Maria Ray about gardening for the annual fifth-grade Writer's Conference.


Courtesy West Oak Middle School

Kate Salyards, 11, a student at West Oak Middle School, interviewing Linda Nelson for the annual fifth-grade Writer's Conference. Nelson is the school secretary.


Courtesy West Oak Middle School

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Published: 6/2/2010 12:00 AM

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Grabbing pens and their lists of questions, 114 fifth-graders from Mundelein's West Oak Middle School had about 15 minutes to interview their sources as part of the fifth-annual grade-wide Writer's Conference held during the second week in May.

The conference incorporates workshops and special programs in an intensive one-and-a-half days of writing in a variety of forms. "Once I started doing it more I found it more interesting," said Jovanny Mata, 11, from Mundelein.

School faculty members volunteered to be sources for the articles. Students interviewed the track coach and wrote about sports. The school nurse, Sue Kruckman, gave instructions on avoiding swine flu.

"The writing process is sort of easier now that we've done the project," said Kate Salyards, 11, who interviewed the school secretary about her commitment to Save A Pet animal adoption center in Grayslake. Articles were written in groups and pasted onto a giant two-page newspaper called the "West Oak Daily."

Justin Rayyan, 10, who interviewed teacher Maria Ray about gardening, said, "It's pretty cool. We get to act like we're the interviewers - it's kind of fun."

Jordyn West, 11, who interviewed the school superintendent, also said she had fun, adding.

"It tells you how to interview somebody and the proper things to write about."

Students rotate through three workshops, and all seven classes write articles for the newspaper. Back inside their classrooms, each student is also a featured author as a part of the "author's chair" portion of the conference in which they select and read to their classmates a story, article or poem they've written.

"The Writer's Conference is an end-of-year celebration of students' many writing projects and accomplishments," said Katherine Crawford, one of the school's seven fifth-grade teachers and coordinator of the conference.

Workshops are presented to give a more in-depth examination of various forms of literature - rebus stories, which include icons and words; poetry styles like cinquain, diamanté and acrostic; posters with text; and comic strips. Samantha Cobos, 11, enjoys the poetry portion of the conference. "I like to write poems about my time in Mexico," Cobos said.

"The Writer's Conference is a creative outlet for all students," fifth-grade special education teacher Stephanie Drakeley said. "I believe students can take away more from an activity when they can role-play and interact with others," Drakeley added.

When it comes time to write for the oversized newspaper, a guest reporter is invited to guide students through the process. The Daily Herald has supported the program each year by sending Hope Babowice, "Kids Ink" author, to facilitate the newspaper production.

Fifth-grade teacher Linda Morris' son Brett Morris, 22, was invited to tell students about his theater background in directing, writing and sometimes acting in plays at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., from which he recently graduated, and his aspirations to become a featured dancer on the television program "Dancing with the Stars."

Students asked a range of questions, including what he ate before a show and when he first realized he wanted to pursue a career in the theater.

"I was at Diamond Lake School, in fifth grade," Morris said. "The show was 'A Knight to Remember.'"

"Writer's Conference offers all students a chance to be successful in writing," said Differentiation Coach Sandy Simonis. "These activities expand the concept of writing and are experiential and fun."

What they wrote

Fifth-graders at West Oak Middle School near Mundelein just finished their annual Writer's Conference, the culmination of a year learning about different kinds of writing. Here is some of their work:

"What Volunteering is All About: Dog Walking at Save-A-Pet"

by Kate Salyards and Carlos Nunez

Have you ever heard about a shelter that doesn't kill any animals, no matter what? Save A Pet is a no-kill shelter that Mrs. Linda Nelson, secretary at West Oak, volunteers at.

When asked what Save A Pet is, Mrs. Nelson responded, "It is a no-kill shelter in Grayslake that takes in animals that people don't want." When asked who told her about Save A Pet, she answered that she had "known about it for several years from the newspaper." She said she started dog-walking there because she felt bad for the dogs. She told us that she has been volunteering to dog-walk for about six months and that she goes to Save A Pet once or twice a week. Mrs. Nelson was also asked how many dogs she walks when there. She responded that she usually walks three dogs. Mrs. Nelson told us that she wants to keep all the animals herself. Mrs. Nelson closed the interview by saying that dog-walking is so important to her because she likes animals. Walking dogs at Save A Pet make Mrs. Nelson very happy!

"Bullying: How to Identify It and Stop It"

by Christopher Shannon, Lazzaro Rea and Bianca Garcia

"Never be scared to get help from an adult," says Mrs. Evangelista. Mrs. Evangelista, the West Oak school psychologist, can tell you all about the subject of bullying. She recognized bullying as teasing, calling names and physical fighting. A bully could be just one person or a whole group of people. People know if they're getting bullied if their feelings are hurt and if they're not sure they should talk to a teacher. A bystander can get involved in a fight and defend the bullied person.

"I can talk to the bully and work it out with the student being bullied or (through) peer mediation," says Mrs. Evangelista. People should overcome bullying by standing up for each other. And by stopping being scared to tell a teacher. Discipline can also help with bullying. Be smart, don't start bullying.

"The Flu"

by Emilio Lopez, Nick Diaz and Alex Perez

Did you know that the swine flu is a virus? Do you want to avoid the swine flu? Then Mrs. Kruckman has some advice for you.

One thing is that you need to get the flu shot. If you don't, you could get the flu. People that often get the flu are kids and old people. To be healthy, you need to rest, eat and wash your hands. Follow these rules and steps to not get the flu often.