Write From The Heart

Two Middle School Scholastic Winners

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is a highly prestigious contest that recognizes the most promising voices in middle and high school. This year, they received 350,000 entries. Only the top 15% of the entries receive an award. All of our eligible students participate, and some submit more than one piece. We had 22 winners!!

Today, we are going to give you some winners who submitted through our Composition classes. Joey C. won Honorable Mention in the Personal Essay category, and Jocelyn C. won a Silver Key in the Poetry category AND a Gold Key in the Personal Memoir category. Her personal essay will move on to the national judging.

Read Joey’s Personal Essay here
Read Jocelyn’s Poetry here
Read Jocelyn’s Personal Essay here

A Risk to Take

By Joey C., Pennsylvania, 8th Grade
Honorable Mention, Personal Essay

Aunt Lori, my dad’s sister, has a ten-acre lake on the farm in Missouri where she and my cousins live. The farm has a bunch of fun activities to do such as fishing, playing volleyball, riding four wheelers, and swimming. On an early morning walk with Aunt Lori I saw plenty of forest creatures like deer, rabbits, squirrels, and even ground hogs. Walking through the tall thick grass was a challenge, but it was fun to see the grasshoppers fly with each step. The smell of the blooming plants in Aunt Lori’s garden was an amazing aroma. Last summer when we visited, my sister Jessie and my cousins, Savanna and Kenzie, and I were extremely bored.  It was too hot to do anything outside.  My uncle thought it would be a good idea for us to go swimming.

“Swimming where?” I wondered.

“Well, we have a lake right outside,” Uncle Marty exclaimed.

“The lake!”

My mind was boggled; horrible thoughts raced through my head.

“You mean that slimy pond out there?  The lake filled with muskrats, snakes, snapping turtles, and moss?”  I asked.

“What’s the point of having a lake if we don’t use it?”  Uncle Marty replied.

“Well, I like to be able to see my hands through the water when I’m swimming,” I said.

“I know there’s a lot of moss out there, but it’s not like it can hurt you,” Uncle Marty said.

That was easy for Uncle Marty to say; he wasn’t going to be putting his body in that water.  Just then my cousins, my sister, and I began to discuss the idea of swimming in the lake.  Kenzie and I didn’t want to go swimming, but Jessie and Savanna insisted that we did.  This was surprising, because Jessie was never the courageous type.

Kenzie said, “Think about all the moss in the lake.  Uncle Marty says that there are a lot of tree stumps out there too.” 

“Yea, think about the snakes and snapping turtles.  Even my dad is nervous about the snapping turtles; he says they can really hurt you,” I said.

Jessie replied, “It will be a lot of fun though.  The moss isn’t that bad.”

“And we rarely see those things in the lake,” added Savanna.

I knew it would be fun to go swimming, but I was still too scared to do it.

Jessie said, “Plus, it’s not like we have anything better to do.”

“True,” I replied.

I asked Kenzie if she wanted to go in, but she wasn’t sure.

I said to Kenzie, “I will go in if you do.”

“I don’t know,” Kenzie nervously remarked.

Savanna chimed in, “You’ll miss out on a fun time if you don’t.  I’m going in.”

Kenzie and I thought about it for a minute and decided it would be fun.  To go swimming we had to wear life vests because the lake is big and deep.  There are tree stumps and cinder blocks hidden beneath the moss.  There was a big floatie in the center of the lake.  To get to it, we would have to swim through thick moss, and who knows what is lurking beneath that moss.  My sister was fearful.

“Weren’t you the one who told me there was nothing to be afraid of?” I asked.

She glanced at me, causing Kenzie and me to laugh.

Getting in to the water was terrifying with moss making the lake floor slippery and slimy, and some old cinder blocks laid around waiting for someone to trip over them.  After a few long moments of terror, we had all made it in. Jessie, Savanna, Kenzie and I had been swimming for about five minutes, and we were almost to the floatie.  Jessie screamed! Fear shot through our spines!  Jessie had gotten caught in some moss; her leg had become entangled in the thick green trap.  Jessie face showed both disgust and terror.  She shouted, “I’m stuck in the moss!”  We all started laughing, but Jessie didn’t find it very funny.  Savanna forcefully pulled on the moss, until it finally snapped.  Jessie was free!

When we got to the floatie, we started playing King of the Hill. King of the Hill is a game where each player stands on top of the floatie and pushes each other off and whoever stays on the longest is the king of the hill.  We probably played for three hours.

Just before we went back to the dock, I felt something brush against my leg.  I climbed on top of the floatie as fast as I possibly could, searching through the murky, green water. I couldn’t see anything.  I was expecting to see a giant catfish or a snake.

Savanna asked, “Oh, did I kick you?”

I sighed in relief.  After cautiously inspecting the area, I jumped back in the water.  We all finally swam back to the dock, but not before Jessie was entangled in the moss once again.

If I hadn’t had gone swimming in the lake, I would not have those memories with my sister and cousins.  We had an awesome time!  Now I know, it’s better to face your fears instead of living in terror of them.

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Poetry Collection

By Jocelyn C., Texas, 7th grade
Silver Key, Poetry (Excerpt from collection)

You Gave Me Strength

I veer off the twisting path,
For the thousandth time
You guide me back,
With a gentle but firm voice
I struggle helplessly
With loud thunder clouds and dense fog
Asking to be shown
You calm me down
With your rays of sunshine and warmth
I make a grievous mistake,
Drawing a black mark in my path
You help me understand,
To learn from the black mark
I am the feeble, inexperienced youngling
But you provide strength and nourishment
I am a brown dying plant,
Ready to give everything up
But you are my water, sun, soil
But the only thing I can’t give up
Is you. Because…

You’re the sun during the day
You’re the moon at the dark of night
You’re the rain if I’m full of thirst
And my wings if I take flight
You’re the peaceful lilies
Swaying in the calming wind
You’re my road signs directing where to go
And the star when hope is dim
You’re the path that leads to God,
Staying clear, direct, and true
You’re the stunning, arching sky
So comforting when I feel blue
You’re the fire in the fireplace
That warms me to the toes
You’re my sword when I am scared
To battle all my foes

I can’t help but thank you so
For being all you are
Without you I would be lost
Veering off the path
Without you I would still be struggling
Against thunder clouds and dense fog
Without you I wouldn’t learn
From all my dark black marks
Without you I would still
Be an inexperienced youngling
Without you I would still
Be a brown, dying plant
Without you I would not
Be who I am now
For you give me strength

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Solving Piano Problems

By Jocelyn C., Texas, 7th grade
Gold Key, Personal Essay

I sat, slumped at the piano. I made another 3 mistakes playing this piece for the hundredth time. Frustration, anger, annoyance, and despair crowded through my mind. How was I ever going to get through just one song without a mistake? I knew this was practically a repeat of what happened years ago when I first began piano at four years old. With my first piano lesson, I was so excited to start, and during the first and most of the second year, I loved it. I practiced everyday with fresh excitement and eagerness. Then everything began to crash. My enthusiasm for it plunged and I dreaded piano practice every single day. I never hid the fact that I hated it. After 5 years of trying and failing to like it, I paused for two years.However, I kept saying that I missed it and that I wanted to try again. The only thing was that if I did start again, I just wouldn’t know if I would have a piano teacher or not.

When we came back, I started again, but I did so without a teacher. My dad taught me (he also learned piano as a child). This time it was better, and I seemed to enjoy it. However, I said I wanted to learn, but I never improved and I didn’t know why. I just couldn’t understand that I had to be determined and open-minded if I wanted to learn at all. My mindset was all wrong, and I always felt like something was off. And here I was, sitting at the piano, banging my head over and over again. The white and black keys stared reproachfully at me, as if they were saying, “Why are you making mistakes all the time? For once, be perfect when you play us.”

The piece I was playing wasn’t difficult, yet I had been playing it without success for almost a year. I was trying my best, but for some reason, it never paid off. I didn’t improve at all, and my mind was closed off somehow. Even worse, sometimes I told myself and others how I loved piano, but all of that was a lie. I didn’t even know that I didn’t like piano. Without knowing, I kept on tricking and lying to myself that I was very enthusiastic about piano, and that even if it was bad, it would get better soon. Many times I would ask myself if I liked it or not, and I couldn’t answer my own question. I was torn. I thought that I did like piano, yet something told me that that wasn’t quite right. I also felt that if I told my parents that I didn’t enjoy it, they would be surprised, stop making me learn, and I would “not have that opportunity” any more. All of this kept me going with piano, even if I didn’t quite sense whether I liked it or not. I couldn’t begin to comprehend what it took to enjoy piano and change my attitude.

My daily practice routine had me practice scales, play a few songs selected from an Alfred music book, and practice a classical piece. I flipped through the pages of my book looking for something more interesting to do. Then I started playing random things on the piano, stalling the real practice. Then I started again so that my parents wouldn’t correct me. I thought that if I played the song over and over again at the same speed, I would somehow get better. So that was how I practiced. After 30 minutes of wasted time playing a piece, I stopped my practice session. But it felt incomplete. I was still feeling frustrated with myself, and I felt like I didn’t practice right for some reason.

I went upstairs to my room, where my parents confronted me.

“You’ve been playing this song for almost a year now, and it’s not getting any better. Is anything wrong?” My dad asked.

“I honestly don’t know what’s wrong,” I said defensively.

“Don’t be so defensive. This is a problem that I’ve brought up multiple times, and yet you’re not helping us solve it. Why is that?” My dad shook his head.

“I don’t know…I’m so confused, and I’m really trying my best!”

“Do you know why this is happening?”

“I think it’s because I’m so afraid to make mistakes, but I make them anyway….” Somehow I knew this wasn’t my biggest problem. I just didn’t want to admit it yet.

“Try not to worry about mistakes, then. Try your best, and practice the right way.” I began to feel guilty, not knowing why. Then, my mom jumped in.

“Jocelyn, this situation is getting worse. You never really liked piano, and you’re not improving. Do you actually like it? Be honest with yourself. Don’t lie!”

Then it hit me. I didn’t like piano! But why? And how could I say that out loud? “Ummmm….”

“Say it. Come on! Do you like piano or not?” She encouraged me.

“I…don’t…t-think so???” I finally conceded.

“See? This is why it’s taking so long to do one piece.” Yikes. So that was it! I had felt something weird, and I didn’t want to admit anything to myself. Consequently, I never really knew why.

A couple hours after my realization, I began getting ready for bed. I slowly brushed my teeth as I thought about what my mom said. Why didn’t I like piano? I knew there had to be a reason for it. Was it because I didn’t like practicing? Yes and no. I didn’t like it, but there had to be a deeper reason. I didn’t simply just “not like practicing.” So then why didn’t I like practicing? I didn’t know the answer to this question. I stared at myself in the mirror, trying to look into myself. I didn’t see anything. My eyes stared back at me, seemingly blank. I just couldn’t find the answer, so I let it drop for a while.

In bed, I let my head rest on my pillow as I began to re-contemplate what today’s conversation meant. My mind was completely twisted. Thinking about all of this made me tired. As I drifted into sleep, I began to dream of the past…

Years ago when I was nine, my mom bought me a math curriculum to strengthen my foundation because it was very weak. We homeschooled, so we could do any curriculum we wished to do. She showed it to me, and I was eager to start something new.

“Jocelyn, this is a new math curriculum that I found, and I think you will like it. This is how you do it…”

“Ok! Where do I start?” I asked.

“You start at the third grade section and it’s like this…[more explanations] Do you get it now?”

“Yeah! Can I start now? Please?” I begged.

When I first looked at it, I immediately liked it. The math curriculum was formatted to engage the student, so I was thoroughly engrossed. It had interesting problems, funny videos, and hilarious comic book guides. At first, the lessons were easy, but as it progressed it began to get harder and harder. Sometimes I would stare at the problem and groan. However, I didn’t want to waste any more time staring, so I would dive right into the problems, determined to beat it down. It was so much so that I even had to ask for help to solve them. As I continued to work on it over the months, my enjoyment for it grew. I loved the problems because they were like fun challenges to test my abilities and it felt so satisfying when I got the problems right. Every day, I jumped into the lessons and was so captivated that I barely noticed the things going on around me. Each problem was a new challenge and every lesson was funny and interesting. I worked on it all day, and my parents noticed.

“Are you sure this is too much?” my mom asked one day.

“Nope. Why?”

“You’re working on it all day, so I thought you would be tired.”

“I’m not tired at all! I like it so much. The problems are hard, though.”

“That’s what I’m worried about. You’re spending too much time on it.”

“But, mom, I’m not! Seriously, I enjoy it. Please, give me a chance to do this?”

“Oh alright. I’m glad you like it.”

I continued doing it, and every day, I learned new material. I was persevering and I had an open-mind to everything the curriculum taught me. I soaked it all up, and I actually wanted to improve. When I finished it, I was so proud.

“Mom!!! I finished it! Can you believe it?”

“Good job, Jocelyn! I’m very proud of you.”

I woke up, slowly opening my eyes. It was morning, and sun streamed in through the gaps in the closed curtains. I yawned. Then yesterday’s thoughts came flooding back. I knew the answer. I had to change my entire attitude in order to be efficient with piano. I was so excited with my realization, and I scrambled off my bed and told my mom about it. With her help, I understood what I needed to do.

“Mom! Mom! I figured it out! I know why I don’t like piano. It’s because of my attitude.”

“Really? What about it?”

“I’m looking at piano practice the wrong way. I see it as bland, but now I realize that if I ever wanted to actually like it, I should see it as a challenge to improve myself and push the limits of what I can do.”

“Jocelyn, you have figured it out! That’s great. Also, I have some articles I wanted to show you about how music improves connections with the brain…”

    “So in the end it doesn’t really matter whether you like piano or not. I mean, it’s awesome if you do like it, but just do it for the sake of improving your brain. And I think I’ll also add to why you couldn’t improve. It’s because you didn’t realize that your piece was owning you. You thought that you wouldn’t be able to get through. So you need to own the piece. So go to the piano, get that piece out, and own it. You are the master,” she concluded.

“Yes! Okay, I’ll do that right now.”

I hurried to the piano and sat down with a new purpose. I played that entire piece through, and even though it had a few mistakes, I felt different. Even my dad said the piece sounded different. Those mistakes didn’t matter. It was my attitude! And then I knew that I had conquered my enemy: fear of my piece as my master and my mental attitude block.  I became more and more determined to beat piano just like I did with that math curriculum.

From that point on, I practiced piano with fresh enthusiasm and tenacity. In no time, I beat that piece and I felt so accomplished. Then I began to take piano lessons again and I practiced new songs. My piano teacher helped me gain more passion for piano and gave me wonderful tips to enhance my playing experience. My mindset became open and I learned from my mistakes.

Now, I have further advanced my piano skills and am playing more difficult pieces. I have learned that determination and an open mind are needed to be rigorous in pursuing goals. I enjoy piano, and my problems have been solved. My next goal is to play a Mozart piece, and I am hoping to play piano more competitively.

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Interested in Preparing Your Own Story?

Is your child interested in taking our Creative Writing workshop so that they can enter the Scholastic Contest this fall?  Or perhaps they need a grammar refresher or help preparing college applications.

Whatever your need, we have a workshop designed to help. Our workshops last four weeks and are self-paced through each week–all assignments are due Friday EST. These classes are wonderful supplements to encourage your child in the things they do well, or help them focus in on the things they need to work on.

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