Talented Young Authors meet CSUMB students

The Steinbeck essay contest

By Robyn Riberal
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Students from Dr. Gage’s class on the day of the contest 2018. (Sylvia Cortez, Clifford Andrews, Brianna Lindsey, Robyn Riberal, Lorena Amador,and Arvin Poblete). Photo provided by Robyn Riberal.

Take advantage of the many opportunities for professional experience while at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), one of which being a participant in the Steinbeck Young Authors program as a writing coach. The Steinbeck Young Authors program presents an opportunity for middle school students to explore the pleasures of writing. CSUMB students can volunteer to be writing coaches for this program which encourages middle school students to enhance their skills by reading and responding to John Steinbeck’s work. This year, “The Gift” – the first of four stories from the novel, “The Red Pony” – was selected for the contest.

Steinbeck Young Authors provides teachers with a curriculum to enhance students’ writing skills. After working with students, teachers may nominate their students to participate in the Day of Writing, which connects students with the community. Community members (including CSUMB students) may volunteer as writing coaches for this event. Participating middle school students will spend the day at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, writing essays to submit to the contest. Each student will choose a prompt to respond to. Students also learn about horse care, storytelling and Steinbeck himself before the writing portion begins. This is a timed writing contest in which the papers must be submitted at the end of day.

Day of Writing

Approximately 3,500 students each year participate in the contest every March. The schools that participate in Monterey County span from Watsonville to King City. Last year, the contest took place on March 5, 2018 at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California. I participated in this contest as a writing coach, offered as Community of Scholar (COSA) points to Liberal Studies GWAR students in Dr. Gage’s class. COSA points are given to encourage students to immerse themselves into occupation related activities.

As a writing coach, I worked with two talented young ladies named Sophia and Jessica. First, I had the opportunity to chat and get to know them over lunch. Sophia is in eighth grade and Jessica is in the sixth grade. We chatted about hobbies and plans for their future. Coaching was an exciting experience and even more fun than I anticipated. Each student had a different prompt so it was interesting to work with both prompts. I gave them suggestions and other ideas to consider adding to their papers. Working together in this authentic context resulted in much stronger essays. They were a joy to work with and completed very well-written essays.

The Awards Ceremony

About a month after the Day of Writing, all of the student essays are typed and included in a book with the students’ photos. These books are given to every student at the awards ceremony which was held at the center on April 28, 2018. It was an exciting event for everyone involved. All students returned hoping to receive an award. Cash awards were presented in each grade category – nine in total!

The featured speaker at the ceremony was Oscar Ramos, the star of the documentary, East of Salinas, which was aired on PBS Nationally. Ramos is a third-grade teacher at Sherwood Elementary in Salinas and a respected advocate for education. Ramos holds an annual Latino Student Leadership Conference at San Benito High School in Hollister. He was a recipient of the 2017 California Teachers Association Cesar Chavez “Si, Se Pude” Human Rights Award.

What made his speech particularly wonderful was that he used language that the students could understand and relate to. They were all very attentive and clearly enjoyed the story he told about growing up in a migrant worker family, his process of learning and getting help from his teachers. He captivated the students in the audience with his outstanding achievements and message that “hard work will bring you success.”

Monterey County is lucky to have such a great program for the community. It encourages so many young people to explore and enjoy literature. Volunteering for this contest was a fantastic experience. It was so rewarding as a college student to feel welcomed into the academic community. The event and many other events happen at the National Steinbeck Center. Take advantage of these opportunities while you are at CSUMB. The Day of Writing is March 2, 2019.

Sign up to be a volunteer!

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