Kara Smith with 2010 Award Winner Ronnia Estes.

Missouri is the “Gateway to the West,” and the birthplace of iced tea and ice cream cones. But it’s also the birthplace or hometown of several notable American authors and poets, including Maya Angelou, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (better known as Mark Twain!), Laura Ingalls Wilder and Langston Hughes. Every year, Missouri teens follow in these literary footsteps by submitting their work to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Recently, our regional partner’s program director Dr. Jane Frick told us about her work with the Missouri Writing Region.

AYAW: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the Missouri Writing Project? What’s a typical day on the job?

Jane Frick: The Missouri Writing Region of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is housed at Prairie Lands Writing Project (PLWP) at Missouri Western State University. Here at Prairie Lands, I have a graduate assistant (15 hours a week, August – May) who works as the contest submissions coordinator. She handles communication with students, teachers and parents via email and over the phone. It’s a big part of the job: she talks to applicants about the submission process, notifies winners, creates certificates, and collects and distributes prizes.

We’re also supported by the Missouri Writing Projects Network (MWPN) which includes the other four National Writing Project sites in Missouri as well as from the Missouri Association of Teachers of English (MATE). Both groups help us to distribute the Scholastic Awards national flyer, which we package with a regional flyer to schools throughout Missouri and Kansas City, KS, area to encourage submissions statewide. The MWPN director and MATE president coordinate the awards ceremony with us, which is held at the state’s “Write to Learn” conference in February in the central part of the state.

AYAW: Wow! That could be a full-time job all by itself. What are some of your other responsibilities?

My ‘real world’ work life is that of an English professor at Missouri Western. I teach three university courses in the fall and spring and direct activities for the National Writing Project: I schedule Saturday seminars for teachers, conduct in-services in schools, and teach and arrange institutes/courses which run fall, spring and summer.

AYAW: How many years have you been a regional affiliate of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards?

Jane Frick: This is our third year as a regional affiliate of the Scholastic Writing Awards. We really like doing this and hope to continue doing so. Last year, we received 265 entries, up from 200 in the previous year. We served students and teachers from over 70 different schools. This year we expect to keep growing!

AYAW: What’s the best/strangest/most unique piece of art or writing that you recall seeing thus far?

Jane Frick: Honestly, the best piece I recall reading was a personal memoir from a few years ago. The student wrote about his dad, an immigrant from the Middle East.

AYAW: Who evaluates student writing?

Jane Frick: We score at tables, using writing teachers, grades K – 16. Several of these teachers are also published writers and poets.

AYAW: How would you describe the program’s impact on the local community?

Jane Frick: Our impact is statewide in that almost 600 teachers hear about and see samples of the winning students’ writing. We display large posters at the state’s annual Write to Learn Conference. We also distribute CD copies of Missouri Youth Write, comprised of the Missouri Scholastic Contest winning entries, to schools statewide. The anthology is also available online.

AYAW: What’s the best part about working as a Regional Affiliate of the Alliance, or with the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards? The most challenging?

Jane Frick: The most challenging part is raising the money we need to support the winners’ ceremony and to distribute copies of awards back to the students. But the best part is always witnessing the students, parents and their teachers’ celebration of writing at the annual awards ceremony, as well as reading the published pieces once they’re on our website and available via CDs.

To see photos of this year’s award ceremony for Missouri writers, click here. Read the work of Missouri teens in the latest copy of Missouri Youth Write.

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