Community Projects:
Bridges Contest Overview

Preface: Bridging the Gap
by Amy Meadows

The Beginning
The Bridges contest started as the brainchild of the program's Lead Teacher, Bernadette Lambert, Middle School-Based Literacy Specialist for Cobb County Schools. More than a year ago, she attended the National Writing Project's Urban Sites Network Conference in Chicago, where she learned about a successful speech contest a presenter from an NWP site had created. She left the conference with an idea--one that would grow and develop after her trip with teacher consultant Zsa Boykin several months later to the Project Outreach Conference in Nevada. While at the Nevada gathering, Zsa and Bernadette conceived of a plan for using an NWP mini-grant to create the Bridges project, which would blend components of the English Language Learners initiative and Project Outreach to sponsor a writing contest focused on the concept of changing communities, a key element in a new program already in the works at the KMWP--Keeping and Creating American Communities (KCAC).
KCAC, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), is a three-year, interdisciplinary project that focuses on the dynamic relationship between formations of community and shifting visions of the American nation. KCAC follows the principle that local communities continually redefine themselves through members' social interactions. In addition, KCAC teachers see writing as a crucial tool for creating communities, as texts from the past help form and shape the communities of the future.
Bernadette's idea of a writing contest that embraced all of these concepts became an initiative of the KCAC project called the "Bridges: Moving to New American Communities" K-12 Writing Contest. The idea developed rapidly. KCAC teacher affiliates generated plans to carry out the initial idea in a way that would celebrate community. Local drama teachers and students would adapt the winning entries into performance pieces, bringing them to life on stage. The best work of the students would be published in a special print anthology, showcasing the talent of students from all grade-levels. With imaginative input, the contest soon was transformed into a major endeavor.

The Process
We needed to inform local educators about the contest and its rules, so we instituted a mass mailing of the entry form package. We sent press releases to the media hoping to attract interest through newspaper articles. The comprehensive plan worked, and entries rolled in throughout January 2001. First they trickled in, and then they flooded our mailbox. By the entry deadline, more than 100 students and sponsoring teachers had participated in the contest.
One Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project interest group providing especially important support for the Bridges project was the local English Language Learners (ELL) network of teachers. The ELL leadership team of Barbara Rothschild, Juanessa Shipman, and Zsa Boykin helped advertise the contest among teachers of second language learners in our service area. They also took charge of preparations for our June 15 performance event. The involvement of heel team was crucial to promoting participation by second language learners--who do not always see themselves as successful writers--in the Bridges program.
In a truly collaborative effort, KCAC teacher affiliates took part in every aspect of the contest, including the judging process. The teacher participants engaged in a three-step "blind review" process, with every entry being read by three teachers who evaluated the piece without knowing the student author, the specific school or the teacher sponsoring the submission. After the first evaluation process, two smaller panels reread the semifinalists' entries to determine the winners and to select the additional submissions to be published in this anthology, Bridging the Gap.
Entries were judged on several criteria, including whether or not they illustrated a conflict relevant to the theme, clear progression in character development, attention to visual detail, insightful portrayal of time and place in Georgia, and language appropriate to a multi-age audience. To claim the Grand prize, the winning entry had to tell the most compelling story about the challenges associated with moving to a new country and learning a new language.
Special emphasis also was placed on how well the narratives could be rendered into dramatic form for the June 15 celebration performance. A team of drama teachers led student actors in adapting the winning stories into vignettes connected by the Bridges theme. The drama teacher involved with the project were Carol Fuller (South Cabbie High School), Steve Jones (Sprayberry High School), Kiran Narker (Stephenson High School), Shannon O-Day (East Paulding Middle School), and Scott Smoot (Walker High School).
While drama teachers and their students prepared stories for the presentation, a team of student editors at Sprayberry High School, led by Peter DiFazio, began designing Bridging the Gap. They had very specific, creative ideas about format and style. They wanted the anthology to accurately showcase the exceptional work submitted to the contest. Sponsored in part by Cabbie EMC, the National Writing Project (NWP) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), this anthology truly celebrates writing from all grade levels--a major goal of the Bridges contest.

The End
Each student author who submitted an entry to the contest received a certificate for his or her participation, even those who could not be included in this collection. We also acknowledged the effort of each sponsoring teacher who took the time to mail a student entry into the contest. We realize that without them, the contest would not have flourished.
The Bridges contest was no small feat. Its success depended on the efforts of many individuals, each of whom contributed significantly to the advancement of the project. It took time and effort, creativity and planning, hard work and dedication. It took a community of student writers, teacher, and project leaders to cultivate a simple idea into a project that exceeded the expectations of everyone involved. The "Bridges: Moving to New American Communities" K-12 Writing Contest was a labor of love from beginning to end.






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