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St. Joseph students flex creative writing muscles to earn dual credit

Emory Montgomery, left, and Kacey Bruchmiller, center, seniors at St. Joseph High School, listen as Bill Kartalopoulos, series editor of The Best American Comics, talks with students from the school’s creative writing course. St. Joseph is partnering with the University of Houston-Victoria to allow students to receive dual credit for the course.

Hailey Miller wasn’t really interested in writing until she took a writing workshop during the summer.

Now, the 17-year-old St. Joseph High School senior is one of a dozen juniors and seniors earning dual credit for a creative writing class through the University of Houston-Victoria.

Ember Dooling

“After I took that workshop, I was inspired, and I wanted to write more often,” she said. “I usually don’t have a lot of free time when school gets started, so being part of this class allows me to write every day about things I’m interested in.”

This is the second semester UHV has offered “Introduction to Creative Writing” as a dual credit option for St. Joseph students. The course is online, which allows students to earn both high school and college credit while taking the class at their high school. The St. Joseph class is taught by Ember Dooling, a teacher at the school, and the UHV course is taught by Saba Razvi, a UHV assistant professor of English and creative writing and director of the English program.

Dooling integrates lessons based on the schedule used by Razvi’s college course, supplementing her students’ skills, progress and engagement with two writing communities. Students from St. Joseph who are taking the class for dual credit do so online at UHV, balancing discussion boards, video conferences, resources and assignments while interacting with degree-seeking students at the university.

Saba Razvi

“This differs from many of the dual credit courses I’ve seen,” Razvi said. “This course takes advantage of UHV’s digital resources, while also developing some supporting face-to-face connections and opportunities at the high school and through the literary events at UHV. The creative writing class at St. Joseph provides a springboard for the students to connect with activities and assignments in the college course. They use both the face-to-face interaction and the screen-based discourse online in the development of their writing skills.”

The St. Joseph class also participates in literary events at UHV, such as the UHV/American Book Review Reading Series and the Downtown Arts Series. All of the students attend the events and often get the chance to interact with the visiting speakers. Many of the university students from the class also attend these events.

“St. Joseph students have been attending the UHV/ABR Reading Series for many years and have often requested that we offer a dual-credit course in association with the series,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences and ABR editor and publisher. “It is rewarding to finally be able to offer them a course so that they may benefit from direct contact with the celebrated authors from all over the country that participate in the series. In speaking with the authors, they seem to be as excited as the students about this opportunity. St. Joe’s has been a great partner in this collaboration. We hope it will continue to grow and develop for years to come.”

Jeffrey Di Leo

The opportunity to speak with the authors has given the students encouragement in their writing as well as perspective on the effort it takes to be published.

“I like hearing from the authors about the struggles they went through before getting published,” said Emory Montgomery, a 17-year-old St. Joseph senior. “I struggle a lot with trying to figure out what to write, and it’s encouraging to hear how others got past that and reached success.”

For Amber Means, another 17-year-old senior, the interaction with college students was intimidating at first. Now, after a few weeks of writing and participation in online discussions, her perspective on working with the older students and her own writing has changed.

“The course interaction instilled a sense of confidence in my writing,” Means said. “Before, I would write in my journal, but I didn’t want anyone reading it. I’d worry that it wasn’t good enough and go over and over it. This class showed me that happens to everyone, and no matter what I’m writing, it might never seem perfect to me, but I can’t be afraid to show it to people.”

Miller also said having her work read by older, more experienced college students was intimidating, but she felt safe knowing that she has support.

“The most reassuring thing for me is that I have Mrs. Dooling to look over things for me before I send it in, and I have the support of my classmates,” Miller said. “I feel like I’ve gotten more comfortable with myself and my writing through interacting with the college students.”

The class looks at creative writing through a variety of genres and formats, Razvi said. Students can write in the traditional genres of creative nonfiction, poetry, fiction and plays, but they also explore more modern forms of hybrid-form writing, such as online list articles or graphic novels, flash fiction, prose poetry and literary theater. In online discussions, the class also looks at the publishing industry and ways students can become connected in the professional writing community.

“We work with not only static text, but also aspects of new media and digital publishing so students can learn to negotiate the contemporary literary arena as deliberate writers,” Razvi said. “We hope that some students will continue to join us at UHV for more courses in writing offered through our Bachelor of Arts or Master of Fine Arts in creative writing programs.”

During their class sessions at St. Joseph, the students start the class with a writing exercise, which usually includes a quote or prompt. The warmups and other exercises help students explore different perspectives and methods in their writing, Means said.

“If I write something in my free time, it’s usually about things that I normally do or things I’ve gone through from the perspective of me, a 17-year-old girl,” Means said. “I’ve never thought to write from a different perspective or about things I don’t know much about or places I’ve never been.”

For Miller, the option to earn college credit is a good opportunity, and the inspiration and encouragement to be creative makes it even better.

“Taking this class as dual credit is extremely important for me and my family,” she said. “I’m really excited that I’m able to get college credit for this while I’m also learning about myself as a writer. I’ve never seen myself as a writer before.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as a teaching center in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities, and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.