This year marks the first time the University of Iowa has selected seven schools from around Iowa to travel to their campus in Iowa City to participate in non-fiction Creative Writing Master Classes, which were led by graduate students and University of Iowa professors. The program, in its pilot year, was called the Lloyd-Jones Residency for Versatile Writing and was led by Professor Bonnie Sunstein of the Iowa English Department.
Van Meter High School was one of the seven schools that were selected and sent four students, as well as Van Meter English teacher Renee Martin, to Iowa City to learn and participate in the Creative Writing Master Classes and get a chance to experience the University of Iowa for four days at the end of April. In addition to four days of writing, reading and learning, they took campus tours and ate at campus dining halls.
The four students that got to visit Iowa City for the Creative Writing Master Classes were Kila Haney, Lexi Olsen, Lindsey Golwitzer and Zach Banks.
Golwitzer said she enjoyed the trip to Iowa City and enjoyed the learning atmosphere they were exposed to during the Master Classes.
“Everybody came to learn about writing and there was no judgment about what you wrote,” Golwitzer said. “I think it was just kind of eye-opening how much thought you can put into writing.”
Olsen said that it was nice to get to experience non-fiction creative writing in a different way than what they are used to with most of their school work.
“For actual school here, it’s mostly research papers and book reports, so it was really fun to have these classes, because I usually don’t get to write on my own, and if I do it’s usually short,” Olsen said. “I just never have enough time. So doing this has allowed me to explore something that I enjoy.”
Martin, an Iowa alumna, said that she has emailed back and forth between the other teachers, whose students were involved in the program and said that they found the experience to be invigorating for the students and the teachers.
“So easily, you get stuck in the day-after-day-after-day of school, and class, and bells, and assignments, so an opportunity like this kind of re-introduced us to what it can be to teach writing, what it can mean for students to be able to really express themselves without having the pressure of a grade or without having the pressure of ‘does this fit a standard?’ Martin said. “It was really all about just building the skills and the creativity.”
One aspect of the program that was not planned at the beginning, but was added after the initial Master Classes in Iowa City, were the return trips. The graduate students that led the Master Classes in Iowa City are visiting each school that participated, including to Van Meter last Monday, and giving a taste of what the classes were all about to a larger group of students.
Ethan Madore, a graduate student in the University of Iowa English Department led the Master Class with the students. Sunstein and graduate student Bernice Santiago were also on hand to observe.
Martin was glad for the opportunity to expose more of the students at Van Meter to the experience with the return trip, saying it was hard to pick only four students to make the first trip.
“I was so happy and we are so fortunate that Bonnie, and Bernice and Ethan were able to open up this opportunity because now I have four times as many students (who) are getting to experience this type of learning,” Martin said.
Haney said that the return trip Master Class was a much different atmosphere around their classmates than it was when they were in Iowa City, participating with other students from different schools that they didn’t know.
“We’re a little more comfortable around each other because we all go to the same school, but I think a lot of these kids don’t often write and the kids we saw up there do… so this is kind of a different experience,” Haney said.
After going through the whole experience, including the trip with the four selected students and the return trip with the larger group of students, Martin said that the biggest takeaway was how talented her English students at Van Meter were. She said creative writing applies to much more than just English and can help them in other industries as well.
“If we can remove some of those parameters, students are able to produce some truly wonderful things,” Martin said. “I was talking to Bonnie about, if you can write this way, with this type of beauty, you can write anything in the world. You can sell anything, you can create anything.
“Creative non-fiction is a skill that will move into everything that these students do with their future.”
Martin is a double alumna of the University of Iowa, earning a bachelors degree and a masters degree from there. This made the trip more special for her as she and the students walked around the campus, seeing all of the amenities and resources.
“I was able to show them some of the little things that someone else wouldn’t have,” Martin said.
“It was fun for me to get to share that personal part of my life with the students as well,” she continued.