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Newton students take ‘journeys’ in writing

Louise Stedman, 11, holds up a copy of “Journeys in Writing,” the product of the virtual writing program with several other Newton students during quarantine.
Louise Stedman, 11, holds up a copy of “Journeys in Writing,” the product of the virtual writing program with several other Newton students during quarantine.Photo courtesy of Dale Norman (Custom credit)

Although the pandemic has kept her mostly inside this year, Louise Stedman, 11, has let her imagination take her far away from home. Over the past several months, Stedman participated in “Journeys In Writing,” a virtual program for elementary and middle school students.

As a part of the program, Stedman wrote the “Adventures of the Alard Sisters Book 1: In Search of a Missing Mom” with one of her friends in the program.

“We got the idea from a book called...” Stedman said, pausing to ask her mom, Crystalle Lacouture, for help. “Called ‘The Penderwicks.’ I liked that book a lot so I decided to write something like it.”

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Stedman, along with 10 other second- through eighth-grade students in the Newton area, worked with local creator and educator Dale Norman to write a book featuring a collection of their own short stories. There are seven chapters total ranging from a mystery featuring four sisters searching for their missing mother to a comedy about a talking hockey puck.

“I mostly picked it because I play hockey and it was fun to write it,” said Gabe Goodman, 13, the author of “Life of a Hockey Puck: Adventures and Times of Timmy the Timid.” “I just wrote what came to my head.”

Norman, who has worked in education for over 20 years, said the idea came to her one morning at the beginning of quarantine. She wanted the program to help children have fun during a summer when everyone was locked inside.

“A program like this really allowed kids to come out of this stressful environment that they were in all the time,” Norman said. “I mean this has been such an incredibly stressful time in terms of what’s going on in people’s homes. When I think about families who have young kids at home, it’s been enormously stressful.”

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Norman and the students met once or twice a week over Zoom to work on their stories. Norman helped her students research and develop creative writing techniques like brainstorming story arcs, character development, and dialogue.

“It’s extraordinary for me to see the writing process happen,” Norman said.

Norman showed them how to use Google Earth to virtually visit the places they wanted to write about, and she initially had the goal that each student would write about the place they visited virtually. But she found the “kids were fascinated by the idea that they could choose whatever they wanted to do,” and decided to encourage them to journey into their own imaginations instead.

The program has been a hit not only with the students but also their parents. Many said they were relieved to find a virtual writing program for their children.

“With Louise being 11, I think for her this was a great opportunity for her to try something she is interested in, but hasn’t really worked privately to work on her writing,” said Crystalle Lacouture, Stedman’s mom. “It’s helped her be a better reader.”

Once the students finished their stories Norman created a book, printed copies, and hand-delivered one to each of her students.

Norman said it was surprising to see how happy the children got from “realizing that they were a part of something that was not just about them. The book was larger than who they are.”

“It has been so exciting to actually meet the kids face-to-face and see how excited they are by what they did,” Norman said.

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Josie Goodman, 11, said she enjoyed not just seeing her own story in print but also those of her peers.

“I was very excited and surprised because I read a lot of the stories, and they were really good,” she said.

Norman said she thought the program was a unique experience, and she would love to see it implemented in schools. She said writing can be freeing for children.

“I want this to have meant something to them,” Norman said. “I want them to see this as a process and something that they will get through and that their families are getting through.”

For more information about “Journeys in Writing,” visit www.facebook.com/creativity36.

Lexi Matthews and Riley Villiers can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.