Students at Bowie High School probably groan as much as any of their peers when assigned to write a traditional theme paper.
But give them a blog and a chance to offer an opinion, and, well, “Bowie Writes.”
That’s the name of an online essay contest started last year by debate coach Gayla Wood, who also teaches communication applications.
“In a school of 3,000 people it’s really hard to stand out,” she said. “With a simple little blog, any student on campus can be assured they’ve had a say.”
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Last year there were 850 entries; this year there are 688 with more than a month left to participate. Two winners of $50 gift cards will be selected: one from juniors and seniors, the other from freshmen and sophomores.
Students must write a 200- to 300-word essay on individual learning styles and submit it by May 22. Last year’s topic was using social media as an educational tool.
“I tell my students, ‘First you hear, then you see, then you read, and then you write,’” Wood said.
Bowie Writes is a small component of the Texas Literacy Initiative, a multimillion-dollar grant the district has received to bring literacy initiatives to three high schools and their related junior highs.
A 4-year-old faculty group, the Campus Based Literacy Team, decided that a website would be a good vehicle to encourage writing, Assistant Principal Keith Johnson said.
The grant covers literacy initiatives from birth through high school, all grade levels of schools and even libraries.
Students themselves promote the essay contest among their peers.
Chris Wilson, 17, is a senior and serves as Bowie’s mascot, The Volunteer. He is Baylor-bound and plans to seek a major in business administration and management.
“We have something that appeals not just to students’ eyes but to teachers,” he said. “Not only is it our job to help, but we do the best we can.”
Wilson said students haven’t poked fun at the invitations to write.
“Students here are nicer than that,” Wilson said. “Some say yes, some no, but no one’s being rude and disrespectful.”
Brenna King, 18, is a senior and the Student Council president. She plans to attend the University of Texas at Arlington and study forensic psychology.
“It’s a good topic for them,” King said of this year’s subject. “It makes them feel that they’re being listened to and that teachers are willing to listen.”
Students also read one another’s essays and offer feedback.
“It gives you a chance to interact better with people when you see how they learn,” King said.
Delrina Ngyuen, an 18-year-old senior, is a Key Club member and a Richard Greene Scholar.
“The context allows students to self-reflect and it allows us the opportunity to discover some things we didn’t know,” Nguyen said. “It’s really cool that it’s online, and it’s a safe space.”
Bowie instructional coach Stormy Turner posts the students’ essays to the blog.
“We’re seeing really good essays,” she said. “Kids are taking it just as seriously as an assignment.”
She plans to build on the subject and come back in August with a training session for teachers on students’ learning styles.
Many students will be taking courses online either in high school or college, Wood said, and writing the blog essays help them learn what to say and how to correct themselves. It also helps them step out of casual social media into a more formal work skill.
“Our kids take pride in their work, and their teachers are seeing it,” Wood said.
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657