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While most 7th and 8th graders were doing what they could to avoid pen and paper in this first week into summer vacation, seven middle school students met at Solvang Public Library to do just the opposite.

Under the direction of teacher Cara Goodall, they spent two hours each day improving their writing skills by engaging in critical thought and creative expression. Supported by the Solvang Library and the Friends of the Solvang Library, this was the first of two free writing workshops taking place this summer for young adults of middle school or high school age.

Facilitator Cara Goodall has been leading the summer writing groups for five years and brings a wealth of experience to the students she mentors. Not only did she teach literature and writing courses at the high school level for nine years before getting a Montessori degree and becoming a teacher at The Family School in Los Olivos, but she also was a fellow with the South Coast Writing Project (SCWriP) in 2004, where she got to work with published writers, educators and researchers in the field of writing.

Goodall’s groups follow the SCWriP model. She first provides students with a variety of prompts from which to write. After putting their thoughts onto paper, students share their text, make constructive comments to their peers and edit their work. Since there are no academic qualifications that need to be met by those who participate, the group attracts writers of different experience levels.

Cara sees this as part of the beauty of the program. “I meet students who are amazing writers and students who are just beginning on the path; we try to honor all attempts by students.” Rather than spend all their time indoors, Goodall and students stroll to nearby places to get material to write down: events, people and conversations. Although the work is not graded, the group gives young writers an opportunity to improve their skill by applying the suggestions and comments offered by teacher and peers. Cara is not only facilitator of the program, but participant as well in most of the exercises.

“It is a great opportunity to give ourselves the time to reflect and put our ideas down on paper,” she says, “My goal is to offer the participants a safe place to write, express their feelings and share their thoughts.”

Although the middle school writing group concludes this Friday, the high school Young Writers Group takes place the July 6-9 and still has open spaces. Students interested in improving their writing through a variety of exercises – including autobiographical sketches, poetry and daily journaling techniques – should contact the Solvang Public Library at 688-4214 for information.