Magical Moments: Writing Workshops with Gary Schmidt - SLO Classical Academy
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Welcome to Down Home, San Luis Obispo Classical Academy’s blog! We are a classical school offering several options to make our education work for families with infants through high schoolers. Our signature hybrid program, which is part-time classroom and part-time home instruction, provides an engaging education for preschool through middle school (with full time options available). We also have a university model high school. This blog is meant to support and encourage on the home front because, in so many ways, the heart of what happens at SLO Classical Academy happens down home.

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Magical Moments: Writing Workshops with Gary Schmidt

{photos by Michelle Dorman}

Today’s Magical Moment was one of the most magical EVER for some of our students. After our fabulous fundraising evening with Gary Schmidt a few weeks ago, our UMS and high school students were treated to a wonderful and unique opportunity – Dr. Schmidt came to SLOCA that Friday to conduct writing workshops with these two groups. How amazing that our students had the chance to work with and be encouraged by this talented yet humble award-winning author! 

Latin teacher Pamela Gerhardt attended the UMS workshop, and today we have her thoughts on this memorable experience, along with photos and a few student testimonials:

As each student took a seat in our very full to overflowing classroom a few weeks ago, one by one they each received a manilla envelope with the instruction, “Do not open!”  After a brief introduction Gary Schmidt had them open their envelope and take out a very old vintage 1800s portrait.  The students were also told to study the black and white portrait and to quickly give the person a name, occupation, considering how they look, the way they stand or sit, consider their clothing, how would this person greet you in passing….and so on.
Next Dr. Schmidt went around the room and had each student introduce their character, which they did most enthusiastically.  And as the morning went on, he continued to ask questions of the student's character, “your character goes home, which is his favorite room in his home, why?  What is something your character wants to hold but does not have?  What obstacles must your character overcome in order to get what he wants that someone else may have?”
Every student was engaged, every student was writing and wanting to share their story.  He pointed out that every good story is often a reflection of life, not always neat and tidy, but within it there is an obstacle to overcome and a challenge to meet.   Overall it was a very clever tool he used  to get one thinking, observing and imagining along with writing.   
It was a privilege to see how he connected with the students and they with him.  A master teacher and storyteller in action.

Several students offered their comments as well:

“I took the middle school writing workshop led by Gary Schmidt, and it was so great! I think everyone that went to it thought the same thing. He was very funny and made us think about what goes into writing extremely detailed and interesting characters. He gave us examples and showed us how a character walks, positions themselves while sitting or standing, and how they say hello and goodbye can actually tell you a lot about who the person is. Even though how someone says hello is just a minor detail, it is these small things that make a story more interesting to read. He also left us with the words “What if…” on the whiteboard. Now that we had our detailed characters imagined, what if… aliens landed? What if… their mother perished? What if… ?  I am currently writing a short story that I hope to submit to Hanging Lantern, and when I was working on it the other day, I found myself asking “what if?” about one of the characters. So I know that the workshop has already helped me as a writer.”

~ Quinn Ferrarini, 7th grade, Track A

“Gary Schmidt is such an incredible writer, but above all he is an inspiration. His workshop was an eye-opener to a different approach to story writing. He took us through an intriguing and insightful way to “gather” our thoughts for any piece of writing we wish to start.  I thoroughly enjoyed his workshop, and left anxious to try out some new techniques.” 

~ Carina Womack, 8th grade, Track B

“I absolutely loved Gary Schmidt's lecture and writing workshop. I was intrigued and inspired by his love for reading, writing, teaching and passion for kids. I was greatly motivated to read more books! He really knows how to relate to kids (especially middle schoolers) and to pull the beautiful ethos (character) out of themselves. We are all very unique and talented but we don't always realize it and I think Gary was able to inspire us with that message through his books. As for the writing workshop, I never had an experience like it. He taught us how to develop characters, settings, and conflicts to create a groundwork for our stories. I thoroughly enjoyed it because I was able to create my own story in a way that engaged me with my character and got me excited about writing stories. Gary is someone whose life has been messy yet he overcame it and was able to inspire others with his incredible ability of writing. Thank you so much Gary for coming to our school!!”
~Katie Erb, 8th grade, Track B

“I really liked the idea that he had to bring in photos and have us brainstorm some little details about our particular character. I definitely would not have thought to do that myself.”

~ Sam Babb, 8th grade, Track A

“Gary Schmidt was really down-to-earth and great with kids (not the stereotypical high-strung author!)”

~ Sierra Cox, 7th grade, Track B4

“It was a great experience. I love the way that Gary presented the workshop. And it definitely helped my writing in the form of character development.”

~ Jonah Jenkins, 7th grade, Track A

I LOVED Gary. He was both witty and warm, rather grandfatherly, and made me think about things I never would have thought about otherwise.”

~ Sage Theule, Senior

I learned that classical books are important because they ask questions that apply to life.”

~ Cormic Calloway, Freshman

“I really appreciated how Gary Schmidt took us seriously, and seemed genuinely interested in what we were saying. He considered everyone's opinions and seemed to care about each one of us as people.”

~ Hannah Thompson, Sophomore

“Gary was super kind and really made an effort to include us all in the conversation. He really cares about students and their writing endeavors, and he inspired me to love writing and to want to write more.”

~ Kate Bischoff, Freshman

One of our middle school students also wanted to share her thoughts after attending the fundraiser event, our “To Be or Not to Be” evening with Gary Schmidt:

“As soon as Gary Schmidt spoke the first word of his speech, he had already grasped my
attention. I was listening to only him, not the occasional chatter happening beyond me. Just him. The way he told his stories or adventures blew me away. I felt like I was right there. I could tell other people felt it too. Their eyes were glued to him in astonishment. They could see nothing else, feel nothing else, or hear anything else but him. I've always wanted to do some public speaking. 
When I left that night I felt as if I could go up and speak in front of America with thousands of eyes watching me. I want to have the same effect on people as Gary Schmidt had on me. That was one of many things I treasured that night. Another one is when he told us how much his books had affected people. I would love to be a writer that possesses that same quality one day.
Having Gary Schmidt speak, while eating the delightful Madonna cake, will be a moment in time I hope to never forget.”
~ Kendra Twist, 8th grade, Track B
{photo by Sandi Twist}

Many thanks to you, Gary, for coming all the way out to California to inspire our parents, teachers, and most of all, our kids. It was an absolute pleasure to hear you speak and to spend time with you, and we are so grateful for the time you invested in our students here at SLO Classical Academy!

Thank you also to Pamela Gerhardt for writing about this workshop for us, and to all the students who shared their thoughts!

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