Area students took part Saturday in the Power of the Pen at Malone University and The Stark County Math Tournament at Jackson Middle School.
Ellie Schiltz created a murder mystery set inside an art museum. Her St. Paul’s School classmate, fellow eighth-grader Patrick Kinnear, delved into the psychological struggles of a Southern California man afraid of snow but trapped in a rare blizzard.
Some 177 seventh- and eighth-graders from 30 schools from Stark and six other counties took part in the regional round of Power of the Pen, a creative writing competition, Saturday at Malone University. But it wasn’t the only mind sport in town Saturday. Nearly 575 students from 14 schools competed in the Stark County Math Tournament at Jackson Middle School.
For Schiltz, Power of the Pen was a chance to compete in an academic setting.
“It’s really intense,” she said. “The first 30 seconds, you’re going through your mind, going through a bunch of influences and experiences in your life, and you’re trying to pick and choose instances that you can gain inspiration from. Eventually, you start to form some kind of a plot.”
“I like getting to go to a bunch of the colleges,” Kinnear said. “I really like writing, and I get to do this with a bunch of friends, so that makes it even better.”
Students are given a prompt, like dealing with a fear, and asked to write about it for 40 minutes. Six students compete against each other and are ranked by two judges. There are three rounds. The students never have the same competition or the same judges and don’t compete against classmates from the same school.
The exercise is considered rough-draft writing, meaning students are scored on creativity, character development and use of the prompt, rather than grammar and spelling.
Saturday’s winners advance to the state finals May 23 and 24 at the College of Wooster.
Julie Lyberger, assistant principal at Lake Middle School and the director of Saturday’s tournament, ran Lake’s team for seven years when she was a language arts teacher.
“These are kids that might not be athletes and this is their niche,” she said. “This is their thing. They are creative writers. The students I have, a lot of them are gifted. They aren’t involved in athletics or other clubs, but this is something they’re passionate about. I have kids come back all the time that are in college, saying how much it helped them.
Macey Parker, an eighth-grader at Lake Middle School, advanced to the state competition in 2012, but couldn’t get past the district round this year. Parker and other classmates served as “runners” Saturday, helping collect participants’ work and the judge’s score sheets to return to each team.
“A lot of us are really bad at sports,” Parker said. “This is something we can do for competition that we’re good at. ... It’s a lot of work. A lot of us like writing as it is, even before we got involved in Power of the Pen.”
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At Jackson Middle School, nearly 575 fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders put their number crunching to the test. The Stark County Math Tournament, a collaboration of the Greater Counsel of Math Teachers and the Stark County Educational Service Center, featured 14 Stark schools that were broken into three divisions.
Students competed in five categories: Data, algebra and probability, geometry and measurement, number sense, team problem solving and mental computation. Three of the categories are related to the Ohio Achievement Assessments, which students take in April. Trophies were awarded for the top two finishers in each category, and ribbons were given to those who placed at least eighth.
“It’s been going on a long, long time,” said tournament coordinator Mike Bayer, a consultant at the Educational Service Center. “We have teachers come and tell us, ‘Oh, yea, I’ve participated in the Math Tournament.’”
Christine Ferrell, a Massillon Middle School teacher and event coordinator, said the kids take the event very seriously.
“They really like it and enjoy doing it year after year,” Ferrell said. “They’re a bunch of mathletes. They get to compete in something academic, which is fun for them because they’re not always the athletic kind.”
Reach Matthew at 330-580-8527
On Twitter: @mrinkREP