Our teachers, administrators, and former parents most often hear that the ability to write well is the skill that our graduates prize most in their freshman year of college. The writing and rewriting process they were exposed to from Lower School grades until graduation stand them in very good stead compared to their college peers.
Small classes make this possible because our teachers have the time to assign, coach, mark up, and grade multiple writing assignments. This educational experience is not often afforded to students who don't attend small independent schools, not even in the vaunted International Baccalaureate program. As you may have read in the quotes from our alumni in "Diagnosing a Healthy Education," writing was more useful than courses in math and science when it came to being accepted to medical school.
One aspect of our writing program that you may be unaware of is our literary magazine, Tesserae. It is an amazing student-produced publication that wins awards, year after year.
We announced earlier this fall in the Flying Lion that Tesserae had won Gold Medal status from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for the second year in a row. Now we’ve learned that the student magazine added to its prestige with an All-American award from the National Scholastic Press Association. The following is the breakdown: Total points required for All-American status is 450; Tesserae received 563. That is a perfect score with 63 bonus points.
Recent accolades for Tesserae include a top rating from the National Council of Teachers of English for three of the last five years and the esteemed Pacemaker Award from the NSPA twice with two additional finalist nominations. This is the fifth year in a row that Tesserae won All-American status from the National Scholastic Press Association.
So what is Tesserae?
Tesserae is Rowland Hall Upper School’s literary magazine, which is supervised by faculty member Joel Long and produced by students as part of Mr. Long’s Creative Writing/Literary Magazine English elective. It is available for free to any RH family and can be found in the Upper School office.
The Creative Writing/Literary Magazine class is a yearlong elective that begins with an emphasis on writing skills in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Some students expand their knowledge of writing and publishing by retaking the class throughout their high school years. Acclaimed writers are frequent guests of this and all of Mr. Long’s English classes. Later in the year, students in the elective collaborate with their peers and work with the printer, Paragon Press, for a high-quality finished product.
The following are two comments from judges in this year's CSPA critique of Tesserae:
"I've been critiquing magazines for decades and don't believe I've ever given such consistent high marks for poetry. As I read, I actually kept saying aloud, ‘This is really good.’ The voice and visions are strong throughout. I wish I had a way of purchasing and rereading your magazine."
“You have some wonderful writing teachers working with you and/or some inspired young writers. Keep up your work and let your magazine and writers inspire even more students to write."
So why does Rowland Hall produce award-winning writers?
Mr. Long is quick to share credit with all RH English department faculty, but for purposes of this article and our focus on Tesserae, we looked specifically into Mr. Long’s accomplishments. In addition to his 11 years on faculty at RH, in 2001 he received the Educator of Excellence award, and in 2009 received both the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Award for Literary Arts and the Writers Advocate Award from Writers@Work.
Mr. Long is the president of the City Art reading series and the founder and president of the Lake Effect Writers’ Conference, now in its 13th year. The all-day workshop continues to grow in size and acclaim. This October, over 250 student-writers attended and the workshop was honored by the return of the first Lake Effect featured writer, David Lee, who is also Utah’s first Poet Laureate.
The event, sponsored by City Art, gives students a chance to interact with young writers statewide and with prominent authors from across the country. Participating schools this year included Rowland Hall, Maeser Prep, Waterford, Copper Hills, Corner Canyon, Paradigm, and Bingham. Past student-writers say the authors and the event itself inspired them, and that they leave the conference with “new energy and ideas for writing and reading.”
The goals of Lake Effect and Mr. Long’s classroom are to provide high school writers contact and forums to learn from prominent, professional writers. The idea is based on the notion that hearing the actual voice of an accomplished writer reading quality literature helps students write mature works of literature. Authors read from their work and discuss issues of craft from which young writers benefit. Presenters inspire students with their writing and ideas on writing, thus providing students with insight into the literary life.
Guest authors already this year in Mr. Long’s classroom include Frank Bidart (National Book Critics Circle award winner), Diane Lefer, Rebecca Lindenberg, and Chilean poet Felip Cussen.