PNW BOCES Master Class Inspires High School Writers

December 04, 2018

“I am not that well-traveled,” said Diane Sarna, to a room full of young, aspiring writers. “I’ve never looked directly into the eyes of a sloth.”

Holding up a book about jungle animals, Sarna, a writer and Fox Lane High School English teacher, explained how photographs, books or magazines can serve as great sources of inspiration for writers.
Sarna was leading a group activity during Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES’ Young Authors Master Class, held on BOCES’ Yorktown campus on Tuesday. The annual, full-day seminar brings together some of the region’s most talented young writers from local high schools and professionals from the world of writing -- authors and editors representing such genres as poetry, fiction and film writing.

Sarna then led the students in a writing challenge called “55 Fiction,” in which the students had to create a short written piece, no longer than 55 words, that includes a setting, characters, conflict and resolution. “Think of it as a little warm up for writing, much like an athlete prepares for a competition or a musician runs through scales before a performance,” she said.

Down the hall in a conference room Rachel Simon, a teacher and published poet, was sitting across from Lauren O’Sullivan of Clarkstown South High School, providing valuable feedback on a poem about self-worth. “Your voice comes through really strong in this poem,” Simon said. She then demonstrated how certain lines could be made even more powerful by deleting what she described as “conversational” elements in the piece.

A few tables away, book editor Sangeeta Mehta was consulting with Gabriela Miletsky of Valhalla High School on a piece of writing about the relationship between the student and her father. “My dad and I are basically the same person,” laughed Gabriela.  Mehta described the piece as a “journey of self-discovery,” and showed Gabriela how changing the order of events within the story could create a surprise ending.

Vin Dacquino, an author and host of a television program called “Let’s Talk Writing,” has presented at PNW BOCES’ Young Authors Conference for more than 20 years. He feels that the one-on-one conferences during the Master Class seminar are a “wonderful opportunity for the students to understand not only the process of writing, but the importance of ‘working the piece.’”

During a lunch break, Ava Slocum and Nina Revall, both freshmen at Rippowam Cisqua School, reflected on the morning’s activities. “I don’t have a lot of time to write for myself,” said Ava. “This program is giving me the opportunity to write freely and get immediate feedback.”

Nina said she especially appreciated the tips Sarna provided for finding inspiration to feed one’s writing.

“The Master Class serves as a wonderful opportunity for some of our region’s most prolific and talented student writers to come together to learn from each other, seek guidance from professional writers, authors, and editors, and just as importantly, reflect on their own writing journey,” said Assistant Director of Curriculum & Instructional Services Fred Ende.  The workshop was sponsored by the Curriculum Center at BOCES.