Nearly 1800 writers from Dalton Middle School (students, staff, and administrators) stopped for 18 minutes on December 18 and wrote together in celebration of the power of writing.
The DMS Success Academy, the program hosting the event, decided that their new magazine, "Just Saying," should publish stories from all over the school, not just writing from select groups. That's when the idea surfaced for the 18 Words event.
Early in the morning, Success Academy students walked the school halls handing out treats and wishing their peers good luck with today's task – freewriting without stopping for 18 minutes. Eighth Grade Assistant Principal Nancy Zahn came over the intercom at exactly 8:45 a.m. and asked the entire school to pause for 18 minutes and write about anything that seemed important to them in the moment.
Eighth grade student Lisette Soto said, "Sometimes things are too hard to talk about, so writing makes it just a little bit easier." Her teammate Sarai Aguilar added, "Now I can proudly say that I can take what I wrote and turn it into a story with just 18 beautiful words."
Teachers and counselors, librarians and paraprofessionals, all joined in to model for students that writing is a tool for all of us to understand ourselves and each other better.
When the 18 minutes concluded, students took the material they produced and began workshopping it with their literacy teachers to pare the piece down to 18 words, a task that is both challenging and rigorous. Each word counts and must be mulled over repeatedly to compare it to similar, often stronger words.
"For the first time at DMS, they allowed us to write for 18 minutes about anything that was on our hearts," said student Aislinn Clark. "And, they are going to print our stories, giving us something to share with others."
School teams will choose their best 18 stories to submit for a publication that will be printed by Shaw Industries in January of 2019. Shaw stepped forward earlier in the fall after providing mentors for the Success Academy students and said they would print the magazine of student and staff stories free of charge.